Flight Nurses

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Before World War II, the U.S. military showed little interest in using aircraft and flight nurses to evacuate wounded soldiers to rear areas. The global war, however, forced the U.S. Army Air Forces to revolutionize military medical care through the development of air evacuation (later known as aeromedical evacuation) and flight nurses.

The rapid expansion of USAAF air transportation routes around the world made it possible to fly wounded and sick servicemen quickly to fully-equipped hospitals far from the front lines. This revolution saved the lives of many wounded men, and the introduction of flight nurses helped make it possible.

In early 1942, airlift units in Alaska, Burma and New Guinea successfully evacuated patients using the same transport aircraft that had carried men and supplies to the front. Due to a pressing need, the USAAF created medical air evacuation squadrons and started a rush training program for flight surgeons, enlisted medical technicians, and flight nurses at Bowman Field, near Louisville, Ky.

Landscape

The need for flight nurses became critical after the Allied invasion of North Africa in November 1942, but the women at Bowman Field had not finished their training. Nevertheless, the USAAF sent these nurses to North Africa on Christmas Day.

On Feb. 18, 1943, the U.S. Army Nurse Corps’ first class of flight nurses formally graduated at Bowman Field. 2nd Lt. Geraldine Dishroon, the honor graduate, received the first wings presented to a flight nurse. In 1944, Dishroon served on the first air evacuation team to land on Omaha Beach after the D-Day invasion. 

Since the aircraft used for air evacuation also transported military supplies, they could not display the Red Cross. With no markings to indicate their non-combat status, these evacuation flights were vulnerable to enemy attacks. For this reason, flight nurses and medical technicians were volunteers.

flight nurses

flight nurses

To prepare for any emergency, flight nurses learned crash procedures, received survival training, and studied the effects of high altitude on various types of patients. In addition, flight nurses had to be in top physical condition to care for patients during these rigorous flights. 

Eventually, about 500 Army nurses served as members of 31 medical air evacuation transport squadrons operating worldwide. It is a tribute to their skill that of the 1,176,048 patients air evacuated throughout the war, only 46 died en route. Seventeen flight nurses lost their lives during the war.

Click on the following links for more information about flight nurses during WWII.

2nd Lt. Elsie S. Ott
1st Lt. Suella Bernard
1st Lt. Aleda E. Lutz
1st Lt. Mary L. Hawkins
Flight Nurse’s Creed

Click on images to enlarge.

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Military Nurse Humor – 

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“We’ll order the seafood. It’s probably expected of us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Betty Collier Dorreen – Takapuna, NZ; NZ Women’s Auxiliary Army Core # 809171

Phyllis Himes – Bisbee, ND; US Navy WAVE; WWII

Pearl Hilliard Holmes – Clayton, NC; Military weapon repairfb7bc2ae8dc9a210e4db2cd51e5e0d25

Dorothy Howard – Knoxville, TN; US Navy WAVE, Naval Air Transport

Francis Newhouse King – Delaware, OH; US Army WAC, WWII, Sgt.

Grace Sayles – Gilbertson, PA; US Army WAC, WWII, nurse

Alida Simmons – Ridgewood, NJ; US Navy WAVE, WWII

Marjorie Henkle Stepp – Irvington, IN; US Army WAC, WWII, SSgt.

Kathryn Walker – Indiana, PA; US Navy WAVE, WWII

Margaret Wolf – NYC, NY; US Nursing Corps, 1st LT.

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on March 17, 2016, in WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 55 Comments.

  1. Maureen Christopher

    Mom was a Navy flight nurse during WW2. 108 only. Graduated from Alameda NAS flight school. They landed on Iwo Jima and Okinawa during the battles there. Mom is 95 and is one of only a few left. Very brave young women. Mom had 8 children. They are all heroes and hardly ever spoke of the job they did but did say they were only doing what they were supposed to do for the wounded! They would leave Guam at 0145 AM and land for one hour on Okinawa, get the manifest from the flight surgeon of the patients and their diagnoses, rebound the aircraft when plane was loaded with 32 patients, and then their work had to be done, tending to the wounds over 8 hours of ocean back to Guam. Brave young women!
    Thank you for all your posts!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are very welcome. I hope I did the nurses justice with my post, they certainly did save lives and comfort to those that were unable to! Please thank your mother for me and ask if she would care to tell her story. I appreciate you adding this info to our site and hope to see you here again, Maureen.

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  2. My mother-in-law was a WAC nurse’s aide. She served in the Seattle area in hospital that treated the wounded from the Pacific Theater. She rarely spoke of the experience but was proud of her service to the severely wounded. When she passed my son received the flag that is given out at a vet’s funeral. He displays it proudly and is very proud of his g’ma.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As he should be, Bruce. I’m glad to hear that! Your mother did a wonderful service for the men; should you wish her to be in the Farewell Salutes, simply leave her information here in the comments.

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  3. Excellent tribute and recognition of the Air Nurses, great record of only 46 dying en route, be interesting to know how a few of the 17 Nurses came to lose their lives during the war.
    Great factual post as usual gp.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Charlotte was curious about those 17 as well. I’m afraid I never got back to you about the combat photographers getting medals – I’ve been striking out. So far it appears, if the cameraman was part of the military, then it was possible; but the civilians would need to rely on a Pulitzer or some other similar award.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Were the 17 on flight duty? It’s amazing that fast tracked emergency training was so successful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Charlotte, I’m afraid I can not tell you where they were at the time they were KIA, only that they were on an active volunteer status with the air evacuation unit when the event took place. Thank you very much for your interest, I wish I was of more assistance.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for honoring my mom. It brought tears to my eyes.

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  6. Another illustration, as if we needed one, of just how much it took to fight the Second World War, both in terns of the cost and the attention to every single detail to get ahead of the Axis powers. Thanks a lot for this interesting post, I personally had no idea that these brave women performed this invaluable service. Perhaps it’s about time that TV looked at them for a programme!

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    • I agree, John. Many people think that air evacuation began with the Korean or Vietnam Wars. A documentary just might do the trick for the up and coming generations!!

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  7. “NZ; NZ Women’s Auxiliary Army Core # 809171” though a core is usually at the centre of things I think perhaps a “Corps” was intended, Sorry gp couldn’t resist it 🙂

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  8. Since the aircraft used for air evacuation also transported military supplies, they could not display the Red Cross.

    I doubt Red Cross ever made any difference to Axis powers, vehicles either.

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  9. Those flight nurses made a huge contribution to the welfare of our wounded soldiers. They should have been very proud of themselves.

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  10. Everett, always love reading about flight nurses. Wonderful that you pay tribute to them. Thank you! Elizabeth

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  11. More great information about those wonderful women.

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  12. Wow! Thank you for sharing this…I never knew.

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  13. Those are pretty impressive numbers for a program that was thrown together quickly.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Once again very interesting and love learning more about them. Smiling at the Humor section 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Nice tribute, GP. It was a shame that they couldn’t display the Red Cross though, but it shows just how courageous they were to volunteer, knowing the added risks.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. What a coincidence! Just today my dad and I were watching a WWII documentary!!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. It’s good to see these brave ladies getting their long overdue tribute, hats off to them.

    Liked by 3 people

  18. Flight nursing really was an innovative idea. I had no idea that aeromedical evacuation had such a long and illustrious history. Thanks for posting this fascinating topic GP.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Thank you for following these troops so closely!

    Like

  20. Thank you very much for honoring these troops.

    Like

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