March 24, 2007 by

Jean Kennedy Schmidt

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Categories: Extraordinary People, Medicine, Military

Lt. Jean Kennedy Schmidt, an American nurse who was held prisoner for nearly three years during World War II, died on March 3 from complications of a fall. She was 88.
Born Imogene Kennedy in Philadelphia, Miss., Schmidt was raised on a farm with her seven siblings. In 1941, she earned a nursing degree from the University of Tennessee and enlisted in the U.S. Army Nursing Corps.
Schmidt was stationed in the Philippines with 98 Army and Navy nurses when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The next day, the Japanese began bombing U.S. bases in the Philippines, including Schmidt’s. Although few of the nurses stationed with Schmidt had experience working in war conditions, they rallied together to build and operate impromptu field hospitals in the jungles of Bataan.
As the Japanese army advanced, the American nurses and other military personnel retreated to the Bataan Peninsula and then to Corregidor, a rocky island in Manila Bay. Amidst almost constant shelling, they set up a hospital in an underground maze of tunnels and cared for wounded civilians and soldiers.
A few of the nurses escaped Corregidor before it fell in May 1942, however Schmidt and 76 other nurses were taken prisoner. The women were sent to the Santo Tomas Internment Camp, where they lived in captivity for nearly three years. During their incarceration, they tended to the injured and diseased prisoners, even though they had no supplies, no medicines and no equipment. Food was also scarce. To stave off starvation and malnutrition, the nurses fried weeds, okra, flowers and roots in the cold cream that came in their Red Cross kits.
Allied forces crashed through the gates of the prison camp in 1945 and liberated the American military nurses who the press dubbed “The Angels of Bataan and Corregidor.” For her courage and exemplary service, Schmidt received many honors, including the Bronze Star and the Philippine Liberation Ribbon.
Three months after her release, Jean married Richard Schmidt, a fellow POW held at the Santo Tomas camp. They settled in California and raised two children. Schmidt continued working as well, providing nursing services at Providence Hospital in Oakland, Mills Hospital in San Mateo and La Vina Hospital in Altadena. In her spare time, she volunteered with the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts, and attended “Angels of Bataan” reunions. Of the 77 “angels,” only three are still alive.

2 Responses to Jean Kennedy Schmidt

  1. Sandra Fritchie RN

    I am very humbled by the great sacrifices these nurses made during their life time.They made me very proud to be a nurse.
    I was previleged to hear the nurses speak at the National Operating room Convention several years ago.
    If hearing their stories, if you were not moved to many tears you must not have understtod all the truma and sacfrice the nurses and all the military had gone through.Much respect Sandra FRitchie RN

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