Kentucky Woman Spent Years As POW During WWII

Kentucky Woman Spent Years As POW During WWII

By Shannon Davidson

(LOUISVILLE, May 24th, 2004, 8 p.m.) -- She joined the Army on a whim, at her uncle's suggestion that it would be fun. But her job as an Army nurse soon became a part of history, as she was held as a prisoner of war for nearly three years during World War II. As we continue to honor "the greatest generation," WAVE 3's Shannon Davidson brings us the remarkable story of native Kentuckian Mary Oberst.

Mary Oberst became an Army nurse in 1937. She remembers her aunt asking her if she wanted to serve overseas. "I told her I was afraid there would be trouble."

Setting her intuition aside, Mary set off for the Phillipines in the summer of 1941. That's where she was on December 7th, the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. "I came back from mass and they told me about it."

The next day, December 8th, the Japanese attacked the Phillipines. What happened in the months and years that followed is now part of World War II history. On May 6, 1942, Mary was among sixty-seven American nurses and more than 3,000 Allied soldiers were captured and held as prisoners of war in Manilla.

Mary says the Japanese often tortured the men, but never the nurses. "We were well treated, except no food, no medicine, no drugs."

Mary's family was notified that she was missing in action. They later received word that she was a POW. Most of the letters they sent her during her captivity were returned.

During her captivity, Mary lost nearly 20 pounds and suffered from Malaria. She was able to learn some news of the war, thanks to a fellow POW who had a radio -- which they went to great lengths to keep hidden from the Japanese. Mary says they would "take it apart, hide the parts, put it back together and listen."

Her long days in camp were spent as a nurse, caring for fellow prisoners. Those days turned into months, and then into years. She was a POW for two years and 9 months, but during that time she never gave up. "I think everybody expected to get out. And all 67 nurses got out."

They became known as the "Angels of Bataan." Their long ordeal ended on February 3rd, 1945, when the 44th Tank Battalion rolled through the gates of her prison. "I went around the building and saw a tank, and a soldier was there."

After the war, Mary Oberst came home to Kentucky, where she was promoted to captain and served at Ft. Knox. Just two years after the war ended, continuing health problems related to her captivity forced her to retire from the Army.

She now lives in Louisville and was honored

Online Reporter: Shannon Davidson

Online Producer: Michael Dever