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Dancing with Death

Dorothy Baggett was 21 years old on March 1, 1942, when she graduated from St. Margaret's Nursing School in Montgomery, Alabama. How could she have imagined that three short years later, she would enter the gates of the Dachau Concentration Camp as one of 80 nurses of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps, 127th Evacuation Hospital? Arriving just three days after liberation, what she and her fellow nurses encountered almost defied description. Bodies were piled everywhere. The living were starving, dehydrated, and ravaged with disease, including typhus. Two thousand cases were diagnosed in the first four days alone, and eighty percent of the former prisoners had tuberculosis. Incredibly, within 36 hours, these 80 nurses, assisted by clergy and corpsmen, had 2 hospitals up and running. For the next four months they, along with German nurses pressed into service and reinforcements from other hospital units, would care for thousands of the desperately ill. With constant and intensive care, many slowly recovered, but countless others were simply too weak or too ill to survive. Captain Wahlstrom of the Nurse Corps said, “We felt we were dancing with death. We couldn’t get away from it and wondered if it would ever stop.” Heroism comes in many forms and often at high personal cost. I honor the memory of these brave young women, far from home, who gave their all in circumstances we can scarcely imagine.


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