World WAr II Pacific Theater


Marcia P. Gates joined the U.S. Army Nursing Corps in February 1941. Gates arrived on the island of Luzon in November 1941 and began work at Fort McKinley’s hospital, just three miles from Manila.

As Japanese forces grew nearer, forcing an evacuation of the hospital in April 1942. Gates’ hope for imminent rescue did not falter, even as Lieutenant General Jonathan Wainwright surrendered to the Japanese on May 6, 1942. Gates, her fellow nurses, and one surgeon spent a tense night and morning as Bataan fell, waiting on a Mariveles dock for their boat to arrive. As they finally crossed to Corregidor Island, Japanese forces unsuccessfully bombed and strafed the group’s small craft.

Fifty-six nurses and 50 doctors were captured initially by the Japanese army at Corregidor. Some were allowed to leave with the Red Cross, and others were captured during covert escape attempts. Gates was one of the 68 nurses nicknamed “The Lost Battalion” who remained prisoners of war.

The nurses stayed at Malinta Tunnel Hospital until July 1942. They were transported to Santo Tomas University internment camp near Manila. Separated from their service member patients on Corregidor, Gates and the other nurses were now tasked with treating civilians—fellow internees at Santo Tomas Internment Camp.

The approximately 3,500 prisoners were American, British, and Dutch civilians captured at the fall of Manila. Overcrowding and cleanliness issues were difficult to address, especially in the hospital. The prisoners lived under civilian Japanese supervision and were sustained with basic rations. At home, Gates’ mother waited anxiously to see her name among POW nurses trickling out of the Philippines via Red Cross flights.
Gates had been officially missing for a year and a half before her POW status was confirmed to the family.

In mid-February, 1944 Gates began her journey home. The next major stop was Leyte, where a bronze star and promotion awaited her. Gates passed away in a Madison hospital on June 25, 1970.