Susan Josephine Pitcher was born September 29, 1901, in Des Moines, Iowa, one of five children born to Edwin and Ida Pitcher. After graduating from nursing school, she joined the Navy in 1929.
Pitcher became a nurse anesthetist and worked at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station before being sent to the Philippines on the eve of Pearl Harbor. She was serving in the hospital at Santa Scholastica in Manila when Japanese forces captured the city in January 1942.
When asked why she and her fellow nurse weren’t evacuated, she simply said, “Why, because we couldn’t leave our boys.”
The nurses were responsible for taking care of thousands of prisoners and were moved from Santa Scholastica to the infamous camp at Santo Tomas before finally settling at Los Baños in 1943. The work seemed never-ending and Pitcher later quipped, “I don’t think I’ll ever be stumped again by not having just the right medicine or equipment I need.”
Joking aside, Pitcher suffered a heart attack while in captivity. Nearly three years in these conditions destroyed her health. After being rescued in February 1945, she was awarded a Bronze Star and stayed in the service until May 1946.
As Gen. Jonathan Wainwright later said of Pitcher and her fellow “Angels”: “Never forget the American girls who fought on Bataan and later on Corregidor … Their names must always be hallowed when we speak of American heroes.”
Pitcher developed leukemia after her discharge and died at 49 on New Year’s Eve, 1950.
We honor her service.