By Philip Newman
In World War II recruiting posters across America asked volunteers to become “The Woman Behind the Man Behind the Gun.” Bella Abramowitz Fisher of Bayside was among the thousands who responded to the appeal.
Fisher’s service as a physical therapist with the U.S. Army took her to such then almost unknown places as New Caledonia and the Hebrides in the South Pacific and Okinawa, site of an epic battle near the war’s end.
The adventures and devotion to duty of the Queens native and seven other Jewish women from the New York area is portrayed in a documentary, “We Were In It, Too,” to be broadcast on Long Island television station WLIW at midnight Jan.16.
“This program is not centered on ‘Jewish issues’ but rather on the formidable contributions of female non-combative military personnel to the U.S. war effort in World War II,” said Debora Duerksen, the producer and director of the documentary.
“In spite of occasional anti-semitism on on the part of their comrades and a military bureaucracy that did not yet recognize equal opportunity for women, all those in the documentary enlisted out of a strong wish to defeat fascism and sense of obligation to their country and all are proud to have served,”Duerksen said.
Besides Fisher, those who tell their stories include two Army nurses, a cryptologist, an official of the U.S. Naval Censor in Washington, D.C., two members of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), one from the Women’s Naval Corps (WAVE) and one Women’s Air Service Pilot (WASP).
“The WASP pilot is a 5-foot-2 former chorus girl in the Ziegfeld Follies,” said Duerksen. “She survives.”
Women pilots of WASP flew military aircraft, for example, from the factory assembly line to the point where the military took over its operation, freeing up a man for combat.
Fisher, who lived at 67-35 218th St. in Bayside, served three years as a first lieutenant during the war and worked as physical therapist throughout her life. She married after the war.
“At the time of her interview in 1995, she was still an active hospital volunteer and had been the recipient of Mayor Edward Koch’s top ‘Volunteer Service Award’ in 1985,” said Duerksen.
“She had developed during the war a unique physical therapy group treatment called ‘holistic neuro-muscular facilitation’ to stimulate patients both physically and emotionally,” Duerksen said. “Her treatment method combined music, dance, social and psychological encouragment with physical therapy.”
Fisher was responsible for designing and building a rehabilitative gymnasium on Okinawa, the scene of savage fighting as U.S. forces neared the Japanese homeland. She told of sleeping with a rifle on one side of her bunk and ammunition on the other side.
The Bayside therapist recounted an incident during the Okinawa fighting in which she and her tent-mate, another Jewish medical professional and childhood friend, got into an argument over which of them would kill a spider crawling through their tent even as anti-aircraft gunfire thundered nearby.
She also served aboard a hospital ship in the Pacific.
What was it like for a young woman on a ship with thousands of men?
“In those days, the boys knew which were good girls,” Fisher replied.
Fisher died in June 2000, two days after the TV interview. She is survived by a daughter and grandchildren in the Boston area.
Duerksen, who began work on the documentary in 1995, said her idea for it might have dated back to her childhood “when I saw on television a BBC program on the famous nurse Florence Nightingale.”
Duerksen said financing of the documentary came from $5,000 of her own money and from a grant of $5,000 from Hadassah International Research Institute on Jewish Women.
Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 136.