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On 5 May 1942, an Army plane bearing eight nurses previously stationed in the Philippines arrives in Melbourne, Australia. As the only known surviving nurses from the hard-hit Army base in Corregidor, the women relax for the first time in two years aboard an Army transport ship bound for the United States. During the cruise, a physician asks them to recount their arduous tour of duty so that he can ascertain how to bring their superior officer, Lieutenant Janet "Davey" Davidson, out of the severe emotional distress that has caused her complete silence. Lieut. Sadie Schwartz recalls the day in 1941 when the nurses under Davey's command met in San Francisco to board the Army transport ship that was to take them to Honolulu, Hawaii, for their two-year tour of duty: When Pearl Harbor is bombed on 7 Dec 1941 in a surprise attack by the Japanese, the United States declares war and the nurses' ship is rerouted to meet with a convoy of Army ships in the Pacific Ocean. One of the convoy ships is torpedoed and the survivors board the nurses's convoy. Among the survivors is Olivia D'Arcy, a nurse who seems so cold and unfeeling that she alienates Davey's nurses. Olivia soon has an altercation with her roommate, Joan O'Doul, a lovable flirt, and at Davey's urging, Olivia reveals the source of her misery: she watched her fiancé die at Pearl Harbor, and now has an abiding hatred of the Japanese. During their time aboard ship, Davey falls in love with a medic, Lieut. John Sumners, and Joan falls in love with Kansas, a handsome college football hero, whom she keeps at arm's length. With the war between the United States and Japan fully launched, the nurses are stationed at an army hospital in the Bataan Peninsula. Upon the arrival of Davey's nurses, the Bataan head nurse, Capt. "Ma" McGregor, immediately relieves her exhausted nurses, who have been tending front line soldiers. Olivia requests duty looking after the wounded Japanese prisoners, intenting to sabotage their care, but finds herself unable to kill them. When the camp is evacuated because of the enemy's approach, Davey's nurses are the last to leave and Joan runs back to her tent to retrieve the black nightgown she has worn every night to maintain her morale. The small delay results in the death of their escorts, and the nurses are forced to hide from the encroaching Japanese soldiers. The nurses are terrified of being captured and, realizing there is no other way out, Olivia grabs a grenade and marches into the hands of the enemy. Only at the last moment does she pull the pin, and the resulting explosion allows the other nurses to escape while grieving their friend's sacrifice. Their new makeshift base, known only as Hospital Kilometer 163.5, is an extremely primitive encampment in the jungle where the nurses care for about 8,000 wounded men. Malaria and dysentery run rife through the camp, but even the affected nurses continue to work. Davey and Joan are fortunate enough to see John and Kansas now and then, but after Ma's son dies from war wounds, Davey's commanding officer informs her that General Douglas MacArthur, the supreme commander of the Allied forces in the Philippines, has left the island and that the expected convoy of supplies has been sunk. After a move to yet another base, Joan collapses from overwork, but soon rallies and overcomes her fatigue. The Japanese bomb and strafe the hospital, and many are killed or wounded, including nurse Rosemary Larson, who dies in a bombing attack while assisting surgeon Jose Bardia. Davey burns her hands during an unsuccessful attempt at saving the two from the burning building. Bataan is evacuated and the roads and waterways are jammed with evacuees headed for the harbor at Marivèles. By nightfall, after supervising surgery on John's wounded leg, Davey joins the confusion and boards a rowboat in a desperate escape to Corregidor. Finally reaching the underground base at Corregidor, the nurses continue to work under the duress of incessant air raids until their supplies run out. John joins a group headed for Mindanao to obtain supplies and, pressured by the constraints of a wartime romance, he and Davey break military rules by getting married. They spend their wedding night next to a gunmount by the bay, and at five in the morning, John departs on his mission. Several days later, the nurses under Davey's command are the first to be secretly evacuated from Corregidor. Davey resists going because she promised John she would meet him upon his return, but a bombing attack forces her departure, and she goes into shock. Although the eight nurses are evacuated safely, many more never return. The story finished, the doctor reads to Davey a letter from John, who reports that he is safe and that he continues to fight for the peace of all people. He encloses the deed to his American farm, where he promises to meet her at the close of the war. Roused by the knowledge that her husband is safe, Davey speaks his name.