Jean Kennedy Schmidt, one of the nurses dubbed the "Angels of Bataan" who treated U.S. troops battling Japanese forces in the Philippines during World War II and were prisoners of war for nearly three years, has died. She was 88.
Schmidt died March 3 at her home due to complications from a fall, her daughter, Susan Johnson of Bemidji, Minn., said Friday.
With Schmidt's death, only three of the nurses are believed to be alive, said Elizabeth M. Norman, who wrote the 1999 book, "We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan."
"She had a wonderful spirit," Norman told the Los Angeles Times. "She loved these women she was imprisoned with, and she said she knew them as well as the back of her hand."
Born Imogene Kennedy on Oct. 13, 1918, in Philadelphia, Miss., Schmidt grew up on a farm, one of eight children. She graduated with a nursing degree from the University of Tennessee in 1941, joined the Army and was one of 99 Army and Navy nurses stationed in the Philippines.
After Japan attacked in 1942, they found themselves treating casualties in open-air field hospitals on the Bataan Peninsula. Few had seen combat conditions before.
When the Philippines fell, they were sent to the rocky island fortress of Corregidor, where they were under nearly constant shelling while working in an underground hospital.
Some nurses were able to leave before Corregidor fell in May 1942 and "we always thought we'd be going also, until the Japanese came into the tunnel," Schmidt recalled in Diane Burke Fessler's book "No Time for Fear: Voices of American Military Nurses in World War II."
Seventy-seven women were interned in Manila, where they refused the tea offered "because we thought they were trying to poison us," Schmidt recalled in the book.
Deprivation and devotion
While in the camp, they continued to treat other military and civilian prisoners while staving off starvation, sometimes by eating weeds.
They were freed in 1945 when a U.S. tank crashed through the gates.
"We heard a lot of rumors about the Americans coming for us but were still surprised when they did come," Schmidt said in "No Time for Fear." "I had begun to feel that the Americans thought we weren't worth saving, and to look at how scrawny we were, we probably weren't."
Schmidt later married a fellow prisoner, Richard Schmidt, and they settled in California. She continued her nursing career in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Los Angeles suburb of Altadena.
‘She simply was doing her duty’
"She was not at all bitter about the experiences," her daughter said. "It was just part of life and it was an important part of her life."
Her mother didn't consider herself heroic, she added.
"She simply was doing her duty," she said.
In addition to her daughter, Schmidt is survived by a son, Richard Schmidt, of Southern California; two sisters, a brother and four grandchildren.