"Miss U" - Underground Network

Margaret Utinsky referred to her underground network, which helped prisoners of war at Cabanatuan, as Miss "U."  In her book, of the same name, she details what she, and others, did to keep more people from dying in the camp.

Captured by the Japanese, Utinsky was tortured for 32 days.  She never gave-up any names and refused to cooperate with her captors.

The out-of-print book is difficult to find, but it is a rewarding read for those who locate it. Clement Finn reviewed it, for Amazon, using these words:

Miss U is an incredible read of an amazing woman who refused to give up. She remained in the Philippines after war began even though she was ordered to leave. When her husband was imprisoned by the Japanese she still refused to leave. She was able to conceal her true identity by volunteering for the Red Cross under the pretense of being a Lithuanian national.

Time and time again she eluded the Japanese as she smuggled all the food and medicine she could find to the American prisoners at the infamous Cabanatuan prison camp, where survivors of the Bataan death march were kept. She sold all of her personal possessions and then worked with a network of Catholic clergy and others who took great risks to help her.

Her husband survived the Bataan death march but starved at the camp in 1942. When she became aware of this she decided very quickly to continue her work in the hopes of helping other prisoners who might not survive otherwise. As if that wasn't enough, she also provided assistance to Filipino guerrillas.

But the Japanese finally caught on and imprisoned her. This is when you began to realize what a TITANIC figure Margaret Utinsky was.

She survived the most brutal torture (told here in graphic detail) as the Japanese beat her, breaking her jaw among many other injuries. They hung her by her arms (after tying them behind her back!) and even forced her to kneel on a bench covered with split bamboo which cut into her legs deeply. But she would not give in and would not talk.

Denied any medical care whatsoever, she spent her nights in a grimy prison cell fortified only by the smallest rations of boiled rice. In the midst of this ... she decided to become a Catholic. It seems she was motivated primarily by observing the heroic clergy who assisted her, all of whom would perish, murdered by the Japanese.

Her captors gave in finally and released her after a month. Friendly Filipinos brought her to a hospital in Manila. Despite a bad case of gangrene on one leg, she pulled through and miraculously, she did not have her leg amputated. You would think by this time that Miss U would have had enough!

After six weeks in the hospital she joined up with a guerilla group and spent the remainder of the war eluding the Japanese until a happy encounter one day with the U.S. Sixth army, which had finally arrived to liberate the Philippines.

Mind you Margaret Utinsky did all of this as a volunteer, never in fact being a formal Army nurse. She was however an RN, having trained as one in the 1920s. This is a truly remarkable story which has never received the attention it deserved.

In 1946 President Truman awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her incredible heroism and Congress gave her a paltry reimbursement of some nine thousand dollars for the personal property she sold to assist prisoners. This book was written in 1948 and one only hopes it enabled the poor author to live in some comfort despite lingering physical and psychological damage from her torture at the hands of the Japanese.

She seems to have lived quietly enough until she developed heart trouble in 1966 and then died almost forgotten in 1970. Even worse, she was buried in an unmarked grave! That is a national disgrace.

In his foreword to this book, General Wainwright (himself imprisoned by the Japanese for three years) said she "ran every risk and underwent torture to help the poor men behind the barbed wire...her gallantry and intrepidity were worthy of the best traditions of our country.”

Indeed they were, it seems there are no superlatives adequate enough to describe Margaret Utinsky.

One ends this book at a loss for words. Her story was partly told and partly fictionalized in the movie "The Great Raid.” It is clear that she deserves a movie of her own, and then some. Hollywood need not alter her story to make her larger than life. What she achieved and what she endured are beyond the realm of imaginative fiction.

No one reading this story will find it easily believable and I lament very much that this book is long out of print. Used copies remain available but are often $60 or more. This is one case however, in which I would say it would be money well spent. It was a relief to find out that her grave finally received a modest marker in 2010 after forty years!

This is a story that should be told and re-told of the tremendous efforts of one member of the "greatest generation" despite all odds. We can speak of her as someone worthy of emulation. We like to think we can emulate such people. But I am left wondering how that could ever be possible...

The image depicts the cover of her book.  Click on it for a slightly better view.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 07, 2013

Updated Last Revision: Feb 23, 2020

Media Credits

Image of Margaret Utinsky's book cover, online courtesy Wikimedia Commons.



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""Miss U" - Underground Network" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. Feb 23, 2020.
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