Breakfast was a watery mix of wheat or rice. After four months at the camp, Thompson's weight dropped from 132 pounds to 108 — most internees dropped an average of 30 to 50 pounds.
In late 1943, her health took a downward turn after a recurrence of the rheumatic fever she'd had at nursing school. The Japanese chose Thompson as one of four internees for a prisoner exchange, and because of her illness, her mother accompanied her. On the voyage to New York City aboard the Swedish passenger ship Gripsholm, she vowed to find a way back to her father and sister.
On Jan. 20, 1944, she was sworn in as a second lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps and headed back to the Philippines. U.S. forces liberated the campus Feb. 3, 1945. Days later, Thompson's unit joined U.S. forces that made their way to the camp.
As word spread of her return, a voice on a loudspeaker called for her father and sister to report to the front of the main building. Minutes later, Thompson was wrapped in her father's embrace.
The Army awarded Thompson the Bronze Star. She was assigned to Fort McKinley on the outskirts of Manila, where her parents lived, and Lt. Jack Thompson was stationed nearby. She began spending her free time with him, and within weeks they were married.
Later that year, her husband was assigned to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. She was discharged from the Army as a captain and worked for several years at Brooke Army Medical Center. In 1961, she was hired at the Nix Hospital as head nurse of the OB/GYN unit. She retired in the mid-1980s as director of nurses at Methodist Hospital. The couple joined the local American ex-POW Association chapter and often gave presentations to regional veteran groups.
In March 2008, McCray traveled to the Philippines with her brother, his son and the son's fiancée, whose family lived in Manila.
They visited the University of Santo Tomas, where administrators were thrilled to greet children of a former internee. They walked inside the building where their mother had cared for the sick. Military reports estimated that 456 internees died at the camp and almost 4,000 suffered from severe malnutrition and medical issues.
McCray said the visit brought her mother's ordeal to life.
"It was a little overwhelming," McCray said. "It was humbling to recognize what had happened and how many people had died. To see the reality of how they lived was difficult."
Information from: San Antonio Express-News, http://www.mysanantonio.com
This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the San Antonio Express-News.