“Courage in a White Coat” by Mary Schwaner, Prairie Muse Platinum, 509 pages, $18.
Lincoln author Mary Schwaner’s new book, “Courage in a White Coat,” commemorates the remarkable life of Dorothy Kinney Chambers, M.D., a pioneering female physician, medical missionary and devout Christian whose life spanned the twentieth century.
As one of the few women graduating from an American medical school during the 1920’s Dr. Chambers became an American Baptist missionary to Assam, a remote province in northeastern India where she established a hospital which successfully administered the needs of an impoverished Hindu population.
After marrying a fellow missionary, the couple was sent to an island in the Philippines just prior to the Japanese invasion after Pearl Harbor. Interned in the infamous Santo Tomas camp in Manila in 1943, the Chambers and their two small children managed to survive the war by enduring the brutal conditions there. Only Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s decision to send a “flying column” of relief troops to liberate the camp saved the family from the Japanese plan to exterminate the entire camp population. Other missionaries who had elected to flee into the hills to avoid capture were beheaded.
Author Schwaner features only the 17 years of Dr. Chambers' foreign experiences in writing a biographical novel. Since Dorothy was allowed to send only two 20-word letters during her captivity, the dialogue and experiences had to be extrapolated from the later reminiscences of this naturally modest woman and the reports of other survivors of the camp.
Schwaner is skillful at interweaving Dr. Chambers' own words into her fictional interpretation of the family’s wartime ordeal and the lengthy book flows more like a novel than a documentary. Vintage photographs and appropriate maps are also included in the book.
Dr. Chambers, who died at age 100 in 2001, serves as a worthy example of the sacrifices made by the civilian population as well as the military during World War II. The book emphasizes the strong religious foundation of Dr. Chambers and her family and should be a welcome addition to the shelves of any Christian book store.
Certainly Dr. Chambers' role as an early feminist, medical doctor, church leader and supportive wife, mother and grandmother deserve to be remembered. In the World War II movie, “Saving Private Ryan”, the dying words of Tom Hanks’ character, Captain Miller, were to admonish Ryan to “earn” the sacrifices made by his men by living an honorable life. Dorothy Kinney Chambers unequivocally earned hers.