One of our recommended books is The Woman With a Purple Heart by Diane Hanks


Based on the real life of Lieutenant Annie Fox, Chief Nurse of Hickam Hospital, The Woman with a Purple Heart is an inspiring WWII novel of heroic leadership, courage, and friendship that also exposes a shocking and shameful side of history.

Annie Fox will stop at nothing to serve her country. But what happens when her country fails her?

In November 1941, Annie Fox, an Army nurse, is transferred to Hickam Field, an air force base in Honolulu. The others on her transport plane are thrilled to work in paradise, but Annie sees her new duty station as the Army’s way of holding the door open to her retirement.

more …

Based on the real life of Lieutenant Annie Fox, Chief Nurse of Hickam Hospital, The Woman with a Purple Heart is an inspiring WWII novel of heroic leadership, courage, and friendship that also exposes a shocking and shameful side of history.

Annie Fox will stop at nothing to serve her country. But what happens when her country fails her?

In November 1941, Annie Fox, an Army nurse, is transferred to Hickam Field, an air force base in Honolulu. The others on her transport plane are thrilled to work in paradise, but Annie sees her new duty station as the Army’s way of holding the door open to her retirement. But serving her country is her calling and she will go wherever she is told.

On December 7, Annie’s on her way to work when the first Japanese Zero fighter plane flies low over Hickam’s Parade Ground. The death and destruction that follow leave her no time to process what’s happening. She rallies her nurses, and they work to save as many lives as they can. But soon their small hospital is overwhelmed. Annie drives into Honolulu to gather supplies, nurses, and several women who will donate blood. However, the nurses are Japanese Americans, and the blood donors are prostitutes.

Under Annie’s leadership and working together in unexpected ways, they make it through that horrific day, when one of the Japanese American nurses and Annie’s friend, Kay, is arrested as a suspected subversive. As Hickam tries to recover, Annie works to find her friend and return Kay to her family. But Annie’s love for her country is put to the test. How can she reconcile the American bravery and resilience she saw on December 7 with the prejudice and injustice she witnesses just a few months later?

less …
  • Sourcebooks Landmark
  • Paperback
  • November 2023
  • 352 Pages
  • 9781728265117

Buy the Book

$16.99 indies Bookstore

About Diane Hanks

Diane Hanks is the author of The Woman With a Purple HeartDiane Hanks has a BFA in Creative Writing from Roger Williams University and an MA in Professional Writing & Publishing from Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. A medical writer by day, she has written numerous screenplays and recently returned to her first love—writing novels. Diane also is a mentor for the Writers Guild Initiative, which makes the art of storytelling accessible to underserved populations.


The Woman with a Purple Heart vividly portrays a little known story in a well-known time on a day that will live in infamy. The actions of Army nurse Annie Fox–the first woman to win the Purple Heart, for her incredible courage and leadership following the attack at Pearl Harbor and Hickam Field–reveal the kind of staggering bravery that both captivates and inspires. A stirring read!” —Erika Robuck, national bestselling author of The Invisible Woman

“Immersive and intense with brilliant characterization, elegant and pacey writing, and riveting drama, Hanks takes us deep in the heart of Annie as she struggles to reconcile her professionalism, patriotism, and conscience. It’s enthralling, poignant, and an absolute treat.” Penny Haw, author of The Invincible Miss Cust and The Woman at the Wheel

Discussion Questions

  1. War brings out the worst in people, but it can also bring out the best. Discuss the ways in which both of these sentiments are true throughout the book.
  2. How do you think Annie’s experience in World War I and her inherently cool demeanor help her in her role? Do they hurt her in any way?
  3. Should Annie have told Kay what she saw written on her son’s back?
  4. Do you think Kay’s and Mak’s reluctance to trust Annie after they found out she was Army was warranted?
  5. Had you ever heard of Hickam Field before? If not, do you think this fact is a disservice to those who served there?
  6. Another part of U.S. history that is largely ignored is the government’s usurping of Hawaii in order to set up a strong military installation to help defend against potential enemies in that part of the world. What are your feelings on this?
  7. When Daiji pushed Kay to bring their children to Japan, why do you think Kay was adamant they stay in the United States?
  8. What do you think the Japanese American nurses’ willing- ness to help the American soldiers at Hickam despite the soldiers’ objections says about them?
  9. In what ways do Annie’s leadership abilities stand out?
  10. The detention of thousands of Japanese Americans in concentration camps in the United States following the bombing of Pearl Harbor and Hickam Field is not a well- known part of American history. Did you learn about this in school? Should it be taught today?
  11. In his defense of the concentration camps, Major Lance says that “keeping them [Japanese] separate will protect them from people who see them as the enemy.” Do you think this is a legitimate reason for the U.S. government’s actions?
  12. Annie’s age is relevant to the story in that she thinks she was sent to Hickam Field as a step toward retirement. Is ageism still a factor in a woman’s career path today?


How did you first encounter Annie’s story? What made you decide to write about her?

I first saw Annie’s name while at work. I’m a medical writer for the VA Boston Healthcare System, and I was writing an article about a new telemental health app called Annie—a messaging service that allows veterans to take a more active role in their care. Messages you receive from the Annie app include tips for reducing stress and how to prepare for appointments. In writing the article, I found out it was named after U.S. Army Lieutenant Annie Fox, the first woman to be awarded a Purple Heart. On the other hand (or gender), the first man to receive the modern-day Purple Heart was General Douglas MacArthur, who’s been portrayed by actors that include Gregory Peck, Tommy Lee Jones, and Liam Neeson.

There are several reasons I wanted to write this story. First, Annie was a nurse. Like teachers, it’s an often thankless but essential job, especially during a war—or a pandemic. Second, I’d never heard of Hickam Field, and no one I knew had either. And third, my father served in World War II as a pharmacist’s mate on an aircraft carrier in the South Pacific. He’d spoken to me about his service only once. At the age of nine, I’d broken my arm badly, and as a distraction on the way to the hospital, he told me about the kamikazes that had hit his ship. He never spoke of it again, but I knew it had to have had a profound effect on him.

Tell us about your research process when writing this book.

For me, research means getting on an internet search engine where one discovery leads to another. When I first began writing— back in the dark ages when writers used libraries—the process was much slower and therefore not as comprehensive. Now, if you hone your detective/computer skills, it can be fast and full of intriguing surprises. It certainly was during my search for information about Hickam Field. U.S. government records and reports with firsthand accounts of the day of the attack were particularly helpful.

Real life is often much stranger than fiction, which is why I enjoy the research part of writing. For example, I discovered that a Japanese banker “hosted” the dance at the officers’ club the night before the attack and that the waitresses wore kimonos. I nearly didn’t include it in the novel because I thought those details were too ironic. The scene in which I describe the morgue at Queen’s Hospital—when Annie sees the civilian casualties—came from actual descriptions I’d read. Samuel Baker is also based on a real soldier who sacrificed himself in the most heroic but tragic way, and Chaplain Elmer Tiedt really was told that his wife had died and later found out she was alive. I stayed as close to true events as I could, because it does give historical fiction a necessary degree of authenticity.

What was the most surprising thing you learned about Annie while doing research for this book?

The most surprising thing was that there wasn’t much to find. From the paucity of information about her service on December 7, 1941, other than her award citation and a few mentions of her in accounts of that day, I can only assume that Annie didn’t think she’d done anything extraordinary. I think she was military to her core and thought she was simply doing her duty, as anyone else in her position would have done.

The other thing I found surprising was that Annie was born in Canada, yet she chose to leave her country and become a U.S. Army nurse. This was an amazingly bold move for a young woman in the early twentieth century. Annie left her family, home, and country to serve in World War I—for the United States—and continued to serve in World War II. She also chose to lead an unconventional life for a woman in her time in that she served in the Army until she retired and never married or had children. I think she considered herself married to the Army, and the nurses under her command were like her children. On December 7, when her nurses were in danger, she did everything she could to keep them safe while still allowing them to do their duty. I’d call that first-rate parenting.

What was your path to becoming a writer? Did you always know you wanted to be a novelist?

My mother told me that the first thing I wrote about—at the age of eight—was a cat. I don’t remember the story, but I was allergic to cats and had asthma as a child, so my guess is that I wrote about a cat after an unfortunate encounter that resulted in me getting a shot of adrenaline. The poor cat was likely the villain of my story. Point being that I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I went to Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island, and graduated with a BFA in creative writing. My first short story was published shortly after graduation, which gave me a bit of confidence that I was on the right path.

I earned my master’s degree in professional writing and publishing at Emerson College, where I fell in love with screenwriting. Living on the East Coast was and still is a disadvantage; however, over the years, I had a few successes along with many, many rejections. Nevertheless, I learned how to take notes from producers, how to manage expectations (keep them low, because screenplays rarely get produced), and how to tell a story that will keep an audience engaged. I also learned that it’s very much a collaboration. So I left room on the pages for the director, actors, set designers, cinematographers, etc., to add their own voices. But when I write a novel, the only voices I need to make room for are those of the characters in my story. There’s a wonderful freedom in that but also more responsibility. And many more blank pages to fill.

What does your writing process look like? Do you outline before you write? Or do you let the story progress organically?

The most important part of the writing process is choosing what to write about. A writing professor once told me not to write unless I have something important to say. I try to follow that advice. I also look for something that will hold my interest for several months. If I get tired of reading my story, so will everyone else.

As far as the writing process itself, I use a somewhat unconventional outline that also leaves room to write organically. The Woman with a Purple Heart is based on a screenplay I wrote titled Hickam. The screenplay is about 120 pages in length and provided a good outline of where my story and characters were going. Then I got to color in the lines. This part of the process is more organic, and it’s when the magic can happen. It’s when you don’t feel like you’re writing but rather like you’re taking dictation. All you need to do is listen—and type.

I’m fortunate in that I have several screenplays that I’ve written over the years that I can use as outlines for novels. However, I wouldn’t recommend learning to write a screenplay just to have a detailed outline. Too much work. Seriously.

What books are you reading these days?

I always have a stack of books on my bedside table. I literally get anxious if I don’t have at least three books in my queue. I’m currently reading Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver. Next up are Shutter by Ramona Emerson, The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan, and The Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes.

I also keep a stack of nonfiction books. I just finished The Choice by Edith Eva Eger, an openhearted and honest memoir. Next up is Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain, and The Facemaker: One Surgeon’s Battle to Mend the Disfigured Soldiers of World War I by Lindsey Fitzharris.