Born in 1910 in Contra Costa County, Magdalena, the oldest of six siblings, grew up in the central California towns of Pine Grove and Jackson, according to census records. She graduated from nursing school at Merritt Memorial Hospital in Oakland and completed a post-graduate program in obstetrics from the DeLee Hospital in Chicago. She worked as a nurse for several years on the Hawaiian island of Kauai and was called to active duty, at age 30, from Palo Alto on 1 March 1941. As an Army Corps nurse, she was assigned to Ft. Mills on the Philippine island of Corregidor, the unit responsible for the harbor defense of Manila and Subic Bays. She was taken prisoner following the surrender in the Battle of Corregidor, where the nurses were treating the wounded in a makeshift underground hospital in the Malinta Tunnel. There were 3,000 prisoners held in Santo Tomas, including civilians. The nurses all kept a working schedule during their three years in the camp, where food and supplies were scarce.
After the war, she married Thomas H. Hewlett, himself an Army doctor who was captured in the Philippines and imprisoned in Japan. They later divorced and Magdalena continued her career in Louisville, Kentucky, as director of nurses in the obstetrics department of the new Jewish Hospital. In 1972, she moved to Sonoma to work as a nursing superintendent at Sonoma Valley Hospital. She died the following year and was buried at Mt. Vernon Memorial Park in Fair Oaks.
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