Sunday, September 13, 2015

Multinational Experiences

Frances Slanger was born in Poland in 1913. But there was no country on the map named ‘Poland’ in that year!

The territory labeled ‘Poland’ had disappeared from the map in 1795, when it was divided into three parts and given to Russia, Prussia, and Austria. As a political state, Poland ceased to exist.

As a cultural nation, the Poles certainly continued to exist: they spoke Polish, and preserved and carried forward their musical, culinary, literary, and artistic traditions. The Poles, millions of them, were people without a country.

Dominated by Russia over a century, the Poles had no individual political liberty. The Russian nobility also occasionally had a nasty anti-Jewish side. Frances Slanger was born into a society in which there was no right to vote.

She was born with the name Friedel Yachet Schlanger, which she changed when she came with her parents to the United States in 1920. As Jews, they enjoyed freedom in the U.S., where they could buy a piece of land and do with it as they pleased, or where they could voice whatever political opinions they might have.

Delighted that she had so many options to explore, Frances decided to study nursing. Graduating in Boston, she worked for two years in a hospital there. As Vice President Dick Cheney writes,

Born in Lodz, Poland, in 1913, Frances, together with her mother and sister, secured passage on a ship bound for America in 1920. They were Jews hoping to escape persecution and build a better life. As a young girl, Frances sold fruit on the streets of Boston with her father and dreamed of becoming a nurse. In 1937 she graduated from Boston City Hospital’s School of Nursing.

By this time, the world’s attention was focused on the horrific events of WWII in Europe, North America, and the Pacific. Frances wanted to make a difference and bring liberty to people in oppressed parts of the world. She joined the Army Nurse Corps.

The western Allies had invaded Europe on June 6, D-Day. Frances arrived “as a part of the 2d Platoon, 45th Field Hospital” on June 10, 1944.

Lieutenant Frances Slanger and three other U.S. Army nurses waded ashore on D-Day plus four. Over the next five weeks they cared for more than three thousand wounded and dying soldiers. In her tent one night, as she thought about all she had seen, Frances wrote a letter to Stars and Stripes honoring the American GI.

The soldiers of the United States were called ‘GI’ because everything they wore, and all the equipment they used, was “government-issued.”

The newspapers Stars and Stripes was published for soldiers and was quite popular among them. Frances wrote her letter one October evening, in her tent, in Belgium, as her unit continued to advance eastward across western Europe.

In addition to nursing, Frances dreamed of becoming a published author. The letter which Frances wrote was published, and became a famous tribute to American soldiers. In her letter, she wrote:

To every GI wearing an American uniform - for you we have the greatest admiration and respect. Such soldiers stay with us only a short time - for 10 days or two weeks. But we have learned a great deal about the American soldier and the stuff he is made of. The wounded don’t cry. Their buddies come first. They show such patience and determination. The courage and fortitude they show is awesome to behold.

Addressing the soldiers directly, she wrote, “we wade ankle-deep in mud; you have to lie in it.”

The 45th Field Hospital advanced across much of Europe. On October 21, 1944, Frances died in Belgium near the German border. Vice President Cheney continues:

Frances did not live to see her letter published. She was killed the next night when a German shell ripped through her tent.

After her death, her letter became famous, and is still read today as a salute to American soldiers. This letter was, however, not the only famous passage she wrote. She had carefully copied this passage into her scrapbook:

There was a dream that men could one day speak their thoughts. There was a hope that men could stroll through the streets unafraid. There was a prayer that each could speak to his own God. That dream, that hope, that prayer became America.

Born in Russian-dominated Poland, she died in Europe working to liberate France and Germany from Nazi domination. But she internalized and exemplified American concepts: the value of the individual human, and the value of liberty.

She lived, and died, with the goal of freeing people from oppression: whenever and wherever governments shackle the people with regulations, people like Frances arrive to champion the cause of liberty.