Memories of Mina (part two)
Norwegian & American Women of Distinction
Daughters of Norway
Feb. 3, 1945, was a glorious day for the “Angels of Bataan.” After three years of being POWs of the Japanese, the prisoners were liberated by the 37th Infantry Division. American soldiers were quick to offer food and candy from their field packs. Sixty-six nurses were freed and within an hour were caring for wounded cavalrymen. They may have been tired and discouraged for three years, but liberation brought a new energy.
They could not pause to celebrate, but instead stayed on the job to nurse the wounded. New drugs and supplies had arrived. This was the first any of them had heard of penicillin. Soon, a large American hospital unit arrived to relieve them of their duties. They were going home! The Army nurses left on Feb. 12, 1945, and flew to San Francisco with a stayover in Honolulu.
There they ate, rested, had hot baths, and received new uniforms. Tears of joy flowed as they stood on American soil once more. Once in San Francisco, they began the slow process of recovering from the starvation and diseases they’d contracted while imprisoned. There were many meetings, welcome-home speeches, family celebrations, and phone calls. After a week in Letterman Hospital, they were granted a 60-day leave to return to families.
Mina Aasen returned to Minot, N.D. There she was content to be among family and friends, wishing to forget the last three horrific years of her life. Like many soldiers, she declined invitations to speak about her experiences, preferring not to talk about it.
After her leave, Aasen returned to active duty at Letterman Hospital in San Francisco. Three years as a POW had left her body in a very poor state. During her captivity she had lost 40 pounds, was diagnosed with amebic dysentery, and had suffered from periods of confusion, memory loss, and exhaustion. When she did try to go back to work, it was just too much for her; she was unable to continue working. On Dec. 31, 1946, Aasen retired from the Army Nurse Corps at age 56. It must have been difficult to transition from the drive required to continue on as a POW to losing her career. Especially a career she was proud of, good at, and loved to do. But she made the best of it. She decided to make her home in San Francisco.
A new chapter of life was before her, and she was going to embrace it. Aasen loved visiting art galleries, and began taking art classes. Even with a very critical instructor, she learned and enjoyed her new pastime. Her paintings were highly rated by her friends, and she often gave them away. She often reflected about a three-day painting session in the California redwoods, and how she enjoyed the peace, quiet, and beauty of nature. Her paintings captured that peace—something perhaps she was longing to feel in her heart, to replace the haunting memories of war. She also loved baseball, and went to many games cheering for the SF Giants. She would return home with a sunburned nose from sitting out in the sun. Going to the opera, nice dinners, and time with friends filled her days. She enjoyed traveling, and played tour guide to friends and family when they visited.
Eventually, Aasen decided to move back to Minot, near family. Still wanting to remain independent, she decided to live in the new senior retirement home. She would visit her sister and walk to dinners and shopping in downtown Minot. She was very well liked, and enjoyed living in the home. She thought the food was good—rueben sandwiches were one of her favorites.
Mina Aasen died peacefully in her sleep on April 2, 1974, at the age of 86. Her family knew of her wishes for a military funeral service at the graveside, and her request for the song “Beautiful Savior, King of Creation.” She was buried in the Veterans Plot at Rosehill Cemetery in Minot.
Mina will not be forgotten! The new Daughters of Norway Lodge in Minot, N.D., chose her to be their lodge namesake. The Mina Aasen Lodge #55 was instituted on Sept. 25, 2018. The members are very proud of the strong Norwegian spirit Mina represents. Women of Nordic descent are encouraged to join the lodge, and are eligible for Charter Membership up to 30 days after the institution date (so hurry!). See the Daughters of Norway website at www.daughtersofnorway.org for more information on lodges, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
References for this article were taken from Memories of Mina, by Gladys E. Bruhn, Aasen’s niece.
This article originally appeared in the October 19, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.