Colonel Rosemary Hogan Luciano: Oklahoma’s Own Angel of Bataan
Colonel Rosemary Hogan Luciano: Oklahoma’s Own Angel of Bataan
Chelsea Ball Burroughs, M.A., PhD Candidate, University of Oklahoma, Education Curator at the Oklahoma History Center
When a bomb exploded in the middle of the makeshift hospital, then Army nurse Rosemary Hogan was thrown violently across the room. When she came to moments later, she could feel the blood from the wounds on her leg and shrapnel in her arm, nose, and face. As the initial shock of the blast wore off, Hogan still could not hear everything around her; she would find out later that her left eardrum was ruptured as well (Norman 1999;80-1). The stuffy clinic in “Little Baguio,” although only recently put together, now lay in tatters. Several of her patients lay dead or wounded. The United States had only been officially involved in World War II for around two months now, and Hogan had spent those months exclusively in the Philippines. Unfortunately for this once small-town Oklahoma girl, her trials serving in the Pacific Theater were only just beginning. Yet, when the war had finally ended, she would stand as a colonel and “one of the most honored and decorated nurses of the war,” awarded the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Presidential Unit Citation (Crawford 1964).
Before her adventures as one of the few female nurses overseas, Hogan was born on March 13, 1912, in the tiny farming community of Ahpeatone, Oklahoma. Too small even for a school, she completed her studies in Chattanooga, Oklahoma, near Lawton, where she graduated valedictorian of her class. Her hard work and academic excellence caught the eye of a local doctor, who sponsored a nursing scholarship for Hogan to attend Scott-White Hospital in Texas. As one of ten children to a recently widowed mother, and to a girl who had always dreamed of being a nurse and the adventure of the military, this opportunity was well received. After completing her training, Hogan joined the U.S. Army Nurse Corps at Fort Sill in 1936 (National Personnel Records 2019; Crawford 1964).
Hogan arrived in the Philippines in December of 1941, shortly before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Just days after the Hawaii attack, the Japanese began bombing prominent American military sites in the Philippines as well, including Baguio, Clark Air Field, Fort Stotsenburg, and Fort McKinley. As the nurse in charge, Hogan led American and Filipino nurses to the Bataan Peninsula to establish a thousand-bed hospital first in Limay, then closer to combat at “Little Baguio” (Arlington National Cemetery Website 2005).
Hogan served as Assistant Chief of Nurses until she was wounded by a bomb exploding only twenty-five feet away from her while she and another nurse were assisting a surgeon in an operation. In a later account of the bombing, Hogan wrote, “The nurses didn’t run for their foxholes in Bataan every time the siren sounded, for it happened so often that no one could have accomplished anything. (Hogan 1945; 80). With the hospital in shambles, the surviving nurses and patients took cover in foxholes until they could safely move to Corregidor (Arlington National Cemetery Website 2005).
On April 29, 1942, the Navy evacuated Hogan and 19 other nurses from Corregidor or “the Rock,” the heavily guarded entrance to Manila Bay. Under attack yet again, the direst wounded were put on one plane, including Hogan, and the others were put on a second small plane. Only one made it out. Hogan’s plane hit a rock beneath the waterline before it could take off, leaving a huge hole. Hogan, still limping on her injured leg, grabbed her towel and coat and began trying to plug the hole to keep the plane afloat. She then yelled for a mattress, but it was too late. Their colonel escorted the nurses off the plane and radioed General Douglass MacArthur for another plane, but it would not make it there in time for what came next (Hogan 1945; 80).
The group fled by bus to Delmonte and then to a “secret” airfield to wait for a new plane to evacuate them. The Japanese, knowing about the field, began bombing it. The nurses then wound up at a Filipino-staffed Army hospital in Impalatao, where they stayed for three months. Hearing horror stories of what had happened to the Chinese at Nanking and the British nurses in Hong Kong, the fleeing and wounded nurses were at first terrified that the Japanese soldiers would try to assault or injure them. Thankfully this was not the case. The men were mostly curious about the American women. At five feet ten inches, Hogan towered above most of the Japanese men, who found it funny to stand next to her and compare themselves. Still, the women kept their guard and stayed together at all times for protection, especially at night (Hogan 1945; 80).
For a short five days the Japanese soldiers took the nurses to Cagayan to a cargo ship along with 100 Caucasian civilians. While sleeping on the deck one night, Hogan awoke to a Japanese man kissing her and laying forcefully on top of her. Afraid of the punishment that could result from slapping him away, Hogan moved to another end of the boat. After that the nurses had American men guard them whenever they slept. A few but long and hard days later, the boat docked at Davao where they waited for two weeks until they and some Red Cross workers were put on yet another cargo ship, this time for Manila (Hogan 1945; 80).
Hogan and the rest of the American nurses and wounded finally landed in Manila Bay, where they were reunited with the ten nurses left at Corregidor. They had been there for two months, and were much healthier and cleaner than her group. Despite being POW’s the nurses set up at the internment camp at Santo Tomas University. Here, they lived a bit more comfortably, housing themselves in the campus dorms and working out of the university’s hospital under Major Maude Davison. They cared for up to four thousand patients at a time of all backgrounds and ethnicities(Hogan 1945; 80, 82).
Although they made the best of their situation, life in a Japanese internment camp was not easy. Hogan and others smuggled money, clothes, shoes, food, and medical supplies to the American soldiers in the POW camp at Cabanatuan through a Japanese doctor who visited both sites. This was extremely dangerous, as three American camp committee members were shot and stabbed two months before their liberation over rumors of a smuggled radio. She tended to the troops that liberated her and the others inside the Japanese internment camp at Santo Tomas as a prisoner for almost 999 days (Hogan 1945; 82).
On February 22, 1945, three weeks after the liberation of Santo Tomas, American troops entered the campus grounds and led the 2,136 internees and 11 nurses to safety in Mamatid. Hogan wrote of this memorable day: “On Liberation Day we were all alive and whole. I can’t say alive and well, because that would be stretching it. You don’t feel very well after months of semi-starvation” (Hogan 1945; 82).
Hogan and the other Angels of Bataan returned to the United States with mixed feelings. While one journalist called the women’s story “one of the greatest ordeals American women ever have undergone,” the media and the women’s own commanders treated them very differently than their male wounded and POW counterparts. At a makeshift welcoming ceremony at their landing at Hamilton Field in California, Brigadier General Raymond W. Bliss, assistant surgeon general of the army, stated, “Your self-sacrifice has demonstrated that the high standards of the nursing profession are something real, and the Army Nurse Corps glories in the picture you present to our fellow Americans.” He then added, “Your courage is an inspiration to the women of this country and in history you will take your place with the pioneer women who have helped establish the ideals on which we live…You have fought the good fight. We are grateful to the Almighty for your safe return and we stay humble in your presence” (Norman 1999;232). Yet historian Elizabeth Norman writes that “in years later, when the army no longer needed them and refused to decorate their leaders or even recognize them as a group, many of these modern-day pioneers would remember the general’s words with a certain contempt and bitterness” (1999: 233). Some of this gendered language was already apparent in Hogan’s 1945 Bronze Star Medal citation: “For meritorious achievement, while in the hands of the enemy, in caring for the sick and wounded.” The term “meritorious” seemed more fitting in describing the actions of a woman rather than “heroic,” like most other Bronze Star citations (National Personnel Records 2019).
Hogan and one other wounded nurse were awarded the Purple Heart that day, and became one of only a few women to receive the honor at the time.
PUBLIC AND PATRIOTIC SERVICE
When Rosemary Hogan returned home after three years as a wounded prisoner of war, she did not stop serving others. After the war, Hogan transferred to the Air Force Nurse Corps and served as Chief Nurse at Boling Air Force Hospital in Mississippi and Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. She married USAF Major Arnold Luciano and retired to San Antonio, where she died less than two years later (Iman Attalla n.d.; Arlington National Cemetery Website 2005).
Hogan spent twenty-six of her short fifty-two years on this earth as a military nurse, serving her country and fellow Americans with dignity and pride. As valedictorian of her small Oklahoma high school, she could have done many things with her life, but she chose to serve and care. Hogan became a nurse long before Pearl Harbor and remained one even after spending most of the war wounded and imprisoned. Hogan was among the first four women to attain the rank of full Colonel, and one of the first women in the US to be awarded the Purple Heart. She was also the recipient of a numerous other awards for her prestigious service in the Army and the Air Force, including the Bronze Star, Presidential Unit Citation with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Philippine Liberation Service Medal with 1 Bronze Service Star (Iman Attalla n.d.).
In October 1978 Hogan Hall at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas, was dedicated to her memory, and in November 1997 she was posthumously inducted into the Oklahoma Aviation and Space Hall of Fame. Hogan was inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame on October 26, 2019, as only one of three women to currently hold this honor. Colonel Rosemary Hogan Luciano is buried at Arlington National Cemetery (Iman Attalla n.d.).