Theodore's World: An 'Angel of Bataan' Dies at 95

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November 18, 2009

An 'Angel of Bataan' Dies at 95


An 'Angel of Bataan' Dies at 95

An Owensboro, Ky., native and one of the "Angels of Bataan" died Nov. 13.

Mary Josephine Oberst, 95, had been living at the Nazareth Home of Louisville.

She was one of the more than 60 Army and Navy nurses dubbed "Angels of Bataan" when they were prisoners of war for 33 months in the Philippines during World War II.

As of September 2007, she was one of only two living "Angels."

The Messenger-Inquirer profiled Oberst in December 1994 -- a few months before the 50th anniversary of the rescue of the "Angels of Bataan" by American troops.

"We were out in the open," Oberst told the Messenger-Inquirer. "There were no buildings. At first, supplies were plentiful. But the Japanese kept pushing us back."

Oberst enlisted in the Army after graduating from nursing school at Louisville's old St. Joseph Infirmary in 1936. She arrived in the Philippines in the summer of 1941.

On Dec. 10, 1941, the Japanese invaded the Philippines. Less than two weeks later, Gen. Douglas MacArthur ordered American forces to withdraw to Bataan Peninsula.

The nurses went into the jungles wearing white hospital uniforms, Oberst told the Messenger-Inquirer. They eventually got a shipment of khaki mechanic uniforms that were more durable.

The Japanese siege of Bataan lasted 90 days. Food supplies dwindled.

"There was one corned beef sandwich, morning and evening," Oberst told the Messenger-Inquirer.

Field hospitals meant for 1,000 men were soon handling three times that many.

On April 9, 1942, the 75,000 American and Filipino troops surrendered. Within two months, 21,000 of them would be dead.

The "Angels" and 3,000 men escaped to Corregidor -- a two-square-mile island in Manila Bay. On May 6, Corregidor also fell to the Japanese.

The nurses were eventually moved to Santo Tomas, a Jesuit University in Manila that had been turned into an internment camp for more than 3,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war.

On Feb. 3, 1945, American troops freed the prisoners.

After the war, she served as assistant director of nursing at St. Mary's Hospital School of Nursing in Evansville until health problems that began in the prison camp forced an early retirement in 1963.

"You never readjust," Oberst said of the prison experience. "It changes you. You are never the same. Other people haven't been there. They can't know what it was like. You're thankful for fresh air, food, clothing, the little things. And you're so much more generous after having been deprived."

Mary Josephine Oberst belongs to many Right-To-Life organizations as well as Veteran and POW organizations. Military service awards include the Bronze Star Medal, Distinguished Unit Emblem w/2 OLCs, American Defence Service Medal w/Foreign Service Clasp, Philippine Defense Ribbon, Philippine Liberation Ribbon w/BS, WWIIVM, APCM w/2 Bronze Battle Stars.


Wild Thing's comment.........

Rest in Peace Mary Jo. She was a real American hero.

....Thank you Tom for sending this to me.

US Army Aviation
Vietnam 1966-68
US Army Special Forces

Posted by Wild Thing at November 18, 2009 05:48 AM


What a wonderful lady. She is blessed forever more. She did what she had to do and for that, she has earned reward in Heaven. Godspeed Mary Jo. Rest in peace. You've earned it.

Posted by: Lynn at November 18, 2009 08:25 AM

Thank you for sharing this, WT. There are so many stories out there of regular people doing heroic things that never see the light of day.

Posted by: yankeemom at November 18, 2009 08:45 AM

G_d Bless you, Mary. You have touched, and made a difference in many lives.

May you rest with G_d and Jesus; you've earned it.

Posted by: SSgt. Steve at November 18, 2009 09:29 AM

The women that served in WWII and suffered or died are seldom mentioned. Like all our WWII veterans, they are passing away rapidly and their numbers are fewer daily. These nurses suffered the ravages of war then endured the Japanese prison camps. At the same time they treated and kept alive many others who would have died.

Mary Jo's story is like so many WWII vets. She served, then came home and quietly went about her life making America a better place.

Posted by: TomR at November 18, 2009 10:51 AM

So sad WT, I met one lady a couple of years ago who is the guest of honor at the memorial day ceremony, she like Mary has touched the lives of all she met.

Rest in peace Mary, you surely paid a high price for freedom.

Posted by: Jack at November 18, 2009 03:38 PM

The Nurses always get short shrift when it comes to the news during a War. But these Nurses are certainly special.

At that time when they went through nursing school, they were almost cloistered and protected by a hospital. Then to be taken prisoner by the Japanese and treated like that it disgusting.

What heroes, God Bless them all.

Posted by: Mark at November 18, 2009 04:19 PM

Thanks for posting this Chrissie. I had never heard of the Angels of Bataan... We are forever in your debt Mary Josephine Oberst.======== I recently finished two books on Vietnam Nurses. 'Home Before Morning' by the late Lynda Van DeVanter, and 'A Piece Of My Heart' (26 nuses tell their Nam stories) by Keith Walker. Both shed alot of light on the sacrifices and stresses sustained by these unsung women. The Vietnam Wall, as well as all our War Memorials, would be ALOT bigger if it weren't for ALL these fine ladies.

Posted by: pontiff alex at November 18, 2009 05:30 PM

Jack, thank you for sharing about the
lady you met.

It is such an honor to post about our heroes.

Posted by: Wild Thing at November 18, 2009 07:52 PM

God bless her and Harry Truman and the big ones over Hiroshima and Nagasaki!

Posted by: darthcrUSAderworldtour07 at November 18, 2009 08:31 PM