FEMINIST FRIDAY – MARGARET UTINSKY HEROINE OF THE PACIFIC FRONT

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When the United States became involved in World War 2, the initial war efforts were put into the European front and the defeat of Hitler.  This created a situation in the Pacific where thousands of American groups were stranded and captured by Japanese troops.  One brave woman, Margaret Utinsky, refused to leave the Philippines and repeatedly risked her life in order to smuggle vital medicine, food and information to American prisoners of war.  The following is her story reprinted from Wikipedia:

Margaret Utinsky
From Wikipedia

Utinsky was born in St. Louis, Missouri and grew up on a wheat farm in Canada.[1] In 1919, she married John Rowley. He died the following year, leaving her with an infant son, Charles.

On a sojourn to the Philippines in the late 1920s, she met and fell in love with John “Jack” Utinsky, a former Army captain who worked as a civil engineer for the U.S. government. They married in 1934.[2] Margaret and Jack settled into life in Manila.

As the likelihood of a Japanese attack grew in the Far East, the U.S. military ordered all American wives back to the United States. Unwilling to part from her husband, Utinsky refused to obey the order and took an apartment in Manila while Jack went to work on Bataan. In December 1941, the Japanese invaded the Philippines. When Japanese troops occupied Manila on January 2, 1942, she was forced aboard the Washington, the last ship leaving with Americans, she sneaked off the ship at the last moment and returned to hide in her apartment rather than go into internment. She wrote in her book, “To go into an internment camp seemed like the sensible thing to do, but for the life of me I could not see what use I would be to myself or to anyone else cooped up there…. For from the moment the inconceivable thing happened and the Japanese arrived, there was just one thought in my mind—to find Jack.”

Undiscovered after ten weeks in hiding, Utinsky ventured out and sought help from the priests at Malate Convent. Through various contacts, she obtained false papers, creating the identity of Rena Utinsky, a Lithuanian nurse—as Lithuania was a nonbelligerent country under armed occupation by Nazi Germany. She secured a position with the Filipino Red Cross as a nurse, and went to Bataan to search for her husband.

She was shocked by the state of the survivors of the Bataan Death March. She resolved to do all she could to help the POWs that survived. Beginning with small actions, she soon built a clandestine resistance network that provided food, money, and medicine such as quinine to the thousands of POWs at Camp O’Donnell, and later at the Cabanatuan prison camp. After she learned that her husband had died in the prison camp, she redoubled her efforts to save as many men as possible.[4] Her code name was “Miss U,” which also became the title of her 1948 book about her World War II exploits.

Suspected of helping prisoners, the Japanese arrested her, held her at Fort Santiago prison, and tortured her for 32 days. When confronted with passenger log of the Washington listing her name, she insisted she had lied so she could work as a nurse.She was beaten daily, hung with her arms tied behind her back, and sexually assaulted. During one night five Filipinos were beheaded in front of her cell. On another night, an American soldier was tied to her cell gate and beaten to death. His flesh lodged in her hair. She was then confined to a dungeon for four days without food or water. She never revealed her true identity and was released after signing a statement attesting to her good treatment.]

She spent six weeks recovering from injuries at a Manila hospital. The doctors wanted to amputate her gangrenous leg, but she refused. The hospital was full of Japanese spies, and she was afraid she would reveal secrets while under anesthesia. She directed the surgeons to remove the gangrenous flesh without anesthesia. She left the hospital before fully recovered and escaped to Bataan Peninsula, where she served as a nurse with the Philippine Commonwealth troops and the Recognized Guerrilla forces, moving from camp to camp in the mountains until liberation in February 1945.

When the combined American and Philippine Commonwealth troops re-entered the Philippines, Utinsky was taken through the Japanese lines by the local people to the American lines. She had lost 45 pounds, 35 percent of her pre-war weight, and an inch in height. Her auburn hair had turned white and she looked like she had aged 25 years. Yet, within a few days, she wrote from memory a 30-page report listing the names of soldiers she knew had been tortured, the names of their torturers, and the names of collaborators and spies. She was attached to the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps, and later was flown to meet the 511 survivors, out of 9000 original prisoners, who were rescued from the Cabanatuan POW camp.

In 1946, Utinsky was awarded the Medal of Freedom for her actions.

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MARGARET UTINSKY YOU ROCKED

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About Bernadette

I live in the small town of Haddonfield, NJ. I am at an age in my life when I seem to spend time thinking and musing about life. These musings are usually stimulated by my walks through Haddonfield, my reading of books and fellow bloggers, and my interaction with my group of fabulous family and friends.

6 Responses

  1. Margaret Utinsky—what a story! In my country of origin (Alberta, Canada) names like hers were commonplace. She most likely grew up in Saskatchewan or Alberta, prairie provinces where many Ukrainian people settled and farmed. I loved hearing about her!

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