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Professor Mary Raum presents her research on women who were prisoners of war during Naval Station Newport's observance of Women's History Month at Spruance Hall, Naval War College, March 19, 2012. (U.S. Navy photo by Ensign Alexander Cornell du Houx/RELEASED)


By Bob Krekorian, Naval Station Newport Public Affairs
March 21, 2013

NEWPORT, R.I. -- Mary Raum, a professor of national security affairs, U.S. Naval War College, was the guest speaker Tuesday at Naval Station Newport’s observance of Women’s History Month.

Raum’s lecture-style presentation in the Spruance Hall Auditorium highlighted some of her research on the experiences of female officers and enlisted who were prisoners of war (POWs) during World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War.

Female POWs selected in her presentation represented the nations of Russia, United States, Germany, Great Britain and Australia.

“These women represent only a small portion of those women who were captured during war and conflict,” Raum said.

Raum said her research from interviews and published literature showed these women had a sense of humor to survive.

“In some instances, survival was a matter of luck and one’s health,” she said.

Raum described the experiences of Monika Schwinn, an international humanitarian aid nurse; Maria Bochkareva, a Russian army World War I combat veteran; Anna Yegorova-Timofeeva, a Russian army pilot; and 2nd Lt. Reba Whittle, an U.S. Army flight nurse.

Raum described these women who endured captivity, inhumane conditions, exposure, physical abuse and starvation as heroines.

Schwinn, a pediatric psychiatric nurse, spent 1,346 days in captivity in seven camps during the Vietnam War.

“Monika’s story is unique in that it is about a non-governmental organization worker that was captured and interned in American military POW camps,” Raum said. “In the history of women in war and combat, the occurrence of being in military camps during captivity is extraordinary.”

Raum said that most women internees, whether military or civilian, were normally placed in civilian internment camps with other women.

Schwinn, of Lebach, Germany, interviewed by Raum last November, was one of five nurses captured in Vietnam. Despite news reports in 1969 that international aid workers were murdered in Africa, Schwinn accepted a position in Asia.

While taking pictures in the Vietnam countryside, Schwinn and a dental assistant and three German nurses were captured by 12 to 15 armed men. This incident was the start of her internment as a POW and enduring long periods of hunger while in captivity in jungle camps and forced marches along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

“The word hunger conveys nothing of the horror of slowly starving to death,” Schwinn told Raum.

During her captivity, Schwinn was in solitary confinement at Camp K-77 for 529 days.

“Most prisoners rely on their minds as liberations from their situations in internment,” she said.

Schwinn frequently had thoughts about building a dream house, drawing out architectural plans, and filling each room with different furnishings.

She eventually was repatriated on March 5, 1973, following her release from the Hanoi Hilton.

Bochkareva joined the Russian army and saw her first battle during World War I along the Russian front. She volunteered to lead a 30-man scouting team. Wounded in the right leg and suffering from a piece of shrapnel that lodged in the base of her spine, she returned to the fight.

Following her promotion to sergeant and in a later battle, she was captured with 500 other soldiers by Germans. She escaped and later returned to the front.

Her personal narrative was published in 1919, “My Life as Peasant, Exile and Soldier,” by author Isaac Don Levine.

Whittle, a flight nurse, was the only American female officer captured in the World War II European Theater. In September 1944, while on a mission to collect 24 casualties on litters in Belgium, her C-47 plane, not marked with the Red Cross, was shot down by German anti-aircraft artillery.

She survived in a Stalag compound and other POW holding facilities until she and other prisoners were repatriated in January 1945. She died in 1982.

Raum said her research showed that some male and female POW decided to give up.

“But there were other POW's that decided not to die,” Raum said.


NAVSTA Diversity Committee apologies to individuals who attempted to attend this lecture but were turned away. There was a miscommunication to security. We regret any inconvenience this may have caused.



Posted by Dan Marciniak