Marcia Gates: Angel of Bataan
Marcia Gates: Angel of Bataan by Melissa Bowersock
Non-Fiction – Biography
Marcia L. Gates was an Army nurse and prisoner of war during WWII. As an “Angel of Bataan,” she spent three years in a Japanese internment camp in the Philippines. This is her award-winning story, told through her letters and the newspaper clippings, photos and letters collected by her mother.
Courage Under Fire
Gradually the battle got closer. We could hear the shells day and night … and the bombs. You see, the guns on Corregidor were firing over our heads and the Japanese were also firing over us at the Rock. We had several hits on the hospital, too. Two of them a direct hit on a ward that killed quite a large number of wounded men. The first time they hit the hospital, the Japanese sent us an apology, “So sorry please. It will not happen again.” But it did happen again … a number of times.
Marcia Gates: Angel of Bataan
The true story of a courageous army nurse and prisoner of war
By Melissa Bowersock
Marcia Louise Gates rose from a family that was populated by strong women and hard-working men.
Her grandfather, Albert H. Porter, came to the wilderness of Wisconsin from Maine in 1850 to teach school and raise a family. His daughter and Marcia’s mother, Marcia Porter, was also a teacher and ran her own nursery school for 26 years. She was a tall, large-framed woman with a ramrod-straight backbone and a steely nature. She was not the kind of grandmother who was warm and fuzzy; she was more apt to remind her grandchildren to mind their manners or glare threateningly if they trespassed over a boundary of conduct. She slogged through the ups and downs of her life with flinty, unbreakable will power.
Marcia’s other grandfather, James L. Gates, came to Wisconsin from New York in 1856 and proceeded to build up the largest lumber business in the country. Learning the lumber trade as a hired hand, he invested every penny in heavily treed land and once the timber was processed sold the land to farmers. The only caveat was that the farmers would have to remove all the stumps from the land before they could plow it, contributing to James’ nickname, “Stumps” Gates. At one point it was estimated that he owned 600,000 acres outright and had bought and sold over 2,000,000 acres in his business dealings.
James Gates’ son, Harrison Mead Gates, married Marcia Porter in 1910 in Milwaukee and proceeded to have four children, all girls: Elizabeth “Betty” Grace, Virginia “Jinny” Mead (my mother), Marcia “Bunny” Louise and Katharine “Kakie” Jane. Harry Gates was a slight man, kindly and approachable. He had been raised with no more expectations than to be a rich playboy and had no practical skills; perhaps that was why the Gates Lumber Company—and his marriage—collapsed. Upon her divorce, Marcia Porter Gates moved back to the Porter family town of Cambridge, Wisconsin with her four young daughters in tow and did what she must to make a life for them. It was extremely difficult at that time for a divorced woman to support herself and four children. In 2003, after my parents had passed away, I went to Wisconsin and met an elderly Porter cousin of my mother’s. She told me that as a young girl she had been warned to stay away from the “Gates girls,” as if the taint of divorce might be contagious. Many doors that might have been open to others were most likely closed to the struggling family.
Yet the elder Marcia Gates did make a life for herself and her daughters, and all four girls went on to college and had successful careers. There was an expectation that those girls would go to college, much as there was for me and my siblings. In a family with generations of teachers, education was highly prized. But for the Gates girls, the options were very limited. My Aunt Betty told me that they had a choice of only two occupations: nurse or teacher. Betty and my Aunt Marcia became nurses, while my mother and my Aunt Katharine became teachers. I’m not sure if that edict was handed down directly from my grandfather or grandmother or if that was simply Betty’s perception of the choices at hand, but I find it hard to imagine that degree of narrow limitation for women back then when nowadays a woman might make a run for the Presidency and make a pretty decent showing of it.
These, then, were the values instilled into the four young Gates girls: hard work, education, perseverance, self-reliance, care-taking, and independence. With this for a foundation, it hardly seems surprising that one of them would eventually earn the title of hero.
Melissa Bowersock is an eclectic, award-winning author who writes in a variety of fiction and non-fiction genres: biography, contemporary, western, action, romance, fantasy and spiritual. She lives in a small desert community in southeastern Arizona with her husband and an Airedale terrier.