Sarah Sundin: WWII US Army Hospitals Part 3/3

This is Sarah’s final installment on WWII Army Hospitals. I’d like to thank Sarah for all her hard work on these terrific posts. Click the links for Part I and Part II.

US Army Hospitals in World War II—Part 3

Ruth squatted beside his cot. “Have you ever flown before, Corporal?”

            “No, ma’am. A man’s meant to stay on the ground.”

            “How long did it take you to get to England?”

            “Almost two months, ma’am, zigzagging around them U-boats.”

            “Mm-hmm. Well, tonight you’ll have dinner in New York. You may change your mind about flying.”

a-memory-betweenIn my novel A Memory Between Us, the heroine becomes a flight nurse, pioneering medical air evacuation. If you’re writing a novel set during World War II, a soldier character may get sick or wounded, and you’ll need to understand how patients were evacuated from the battleground to the hospital and perhaps taken stateside.

In my first post,  I discussed the chain of evacuation. In my second post, I discussed more details about mobile and fixed hospitals, and today I’ll cover evacuation of the wounded.

Manual Transport

On the battleground, medics or fellow soldiers could manually carry a wounded man further to the rear for aid. Methods included the supporting carry (walking side-by-side), the arms carry, the saddleback carry (piggy-back), and the fireman’s carry.

Litter Transport

American litters were made of canvas stretched over aluminum or wood poles with stirrup-shaped feet to keep them off the ground. A litter could be carried by two people, but a litter squad consisted of four men, to rotate if traveling long distances and to assist over obstacles. Ideally, litter transport was only used for short distances, but in mountainous or forested or swampy terrain, litter transport was the only available means. Mules were often used in the Mediterranean Theater to carry litters in rocky, mountainous terrain.

Motor Transport

Ambulances were used to transport patients, usually from an aid, clearing, or collecting station to a field hospital, or for transport further to the rear. Ambulances could carry seven seated patients or four patients on litters.

Water Transport

Jeeps were often used, both on the battleground and to transport further to the rear. Rugged and maneuverable, jeeps could cover terrain inhospitable to ambulances. With litter brackets, a jeep could carry two patients. Armored divisions also used light tanks to transport their wounded.

During an amphibious landing, the best way to handle the wounded was to send them back on departing landing craft, which carried them to hospital ships off-shore. Patients could be removed from danger and transported quickly to get needed care.

Hospital ships were used offshore after an invasion to care for the wounded before field and evacuation hospitals could be set up. They also transported patients who needed long-term care to general hospitals further to the rear. Another use of hospital ships was to transport to the US any patients who needed long-term convalescent care or those who qualified for a medical discharge. They carried several hundred patients and delivered full medical care, but transport took a long time and carried the danger of enemy attack at sea.

Rail Transport

Hospital trains were used within theaters of operation to transport patients from one hospital to another. They were used in the continental US, Britain, continental Europe, India, and North Africa. They could carry several hundred patients with excellent medical care.

Air Transport

Medical air evacuation was new and revolutionary, but by the end of the war, it proved successful. Planes can traverse inhospitable terrain or dangerous seas—and quickly. At the front, the wounded were gathered at collecting stations at airfields. C-47 cargo planes carried 18-24 litter patients or a higher number of ambulatory patients further to the rear. A team consisting of a flight nurse and a surgical technician cared for the patients in flight. The larger C-54 cargo plane was used for trans-oceanic evacuation. Danger still existed, both from the inherent risks of flight and also because the planes carried cargo and couldn’t be marked with the Red Cross.

Resources for Research

Office of the Surgeon General. Medical Field Manual: Transportation of the Sick and Wounded. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, Feb. 21, 1941 (available free on-line at http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/ref/FM/index.html ). Please note the date—some of the material, especially about air evacuation, became quickly outdated.

For better information on air evacuation, please see:

Links, Mae Mills & Coleman, Hubert A. Medical Support of the Army Air Forces in World War II. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Surgeon General, USAF, 1955.
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sarahsundin2
Sarah Sundin is the author of the Wings of Glory series from Revell: A Distant Melody (March 2010), A Memory Between Us (September 2010), and Blue Skies Tomorrow (August 2011). She has a doctorate in pharmacy from UC San Francisco and works on-call as a hospital pharmacist.

***This content is reposted from December 17th, 2010.***

Sarah Sundin: WWII US Army Hospitals Part 2/3

This week, I’m pleased to host author Sarah Sundin as she shares some of her wonderful research that served as the backdrop for her Wings of Glory Series. You can find Part I here.

US Army Hospitals in World War II—Part 2

Ruth passed precise military rows of the hospital’s Nissen huts. Redgrave Hall stood to the west, but she headed south across the road the ambulances used and entered a lightly wooded meadow and another world. How could one family own so much land?

          If Ruth had resources like that, she wouldn’t be in a fix.

a-memory-betweenIn my novel, A Memory Between Us, the heroine serves as a US Army nurse based in England. If you’re writing a novel set during World War II, you may need to write a scene set in a military hospital, and you’ll need to understand Army hospitals.

Last post, I discussed the chain of evacuation, today I’ll discuss more details about mobile and fixed hospitals, and on the next post, I’ll cover evacuation of the wounded.

Mobile Hospitals

Field hospitals (400 beds) and evacuation hospitals (either 400 bed or 750 bed) arrived within a few days of an invasion and followed the army, staying about thirty miles behind the front. They were close enough to treat patients quickly and send them back to the front quickly as well.

These hospitals relied on mobility. They usually used canvas tents, but also used schools, barracks, hospital buildings, hotels, Mediterranean villas, and an Italian stadium. A few days before a move, the hospital stopped admitting patients and evacuated their current patients to other hospitals. They packed their equipment and personnel into trucks, advanced, set up, and were ready to admit patients within hours.

When ambulances arrived, triage officers sent patients to pre-op, medical, shock, or evacuation wards as needed. Surgical teams worked twelve hours on, then twelve hours off.

In the European Theater (England, France, Belgium, Germany), the field hospitals stayed closer to the front, with the evacuation hospitals further to the rear. In the Mediterranean Theater (North Africa, Sicily, Italy, southern France), field hospitals and evacuation hospitals were often used interchangeably. Both theaters practiced “leapfrogging” as the front advanced—hospital A would pass hospital B, then hospital B would pass hospital A. This reduced the frequency of moves.

Fixed Hospitals

The station hospitals (250, 500, or 750 bed), general hospitals (1000 bed), and convalescent hospitals (2000 or 3000 bed) were set up far from the front to keep patients safe from danger, but also to keep them in the theater, which made it easier to return the soldiers to duty. In England before D-Day, field and evacuation hospitals waiting for the Normandy invasion functioned as station hospitals to care for patients.

In each theater of operations, fixed hospitals operated in what was called the “Communications Zone.” In the European Theater, the COMZ was originally in England, then as the Allies approached the German border, the COMZ extended to include Normandy and Belgium. In the Mediterranean Theater, Morocco served as the first COMZ, then Algeria. When the Allies invaded Sicily and Italy, North Africa was the COMZ, and as the front advanced, the COMZ was established in the Naples area of southern Italy. In the Pacific, fixed hospitals were first established in Hawaii and Australia, then followed into secured regions.

Fixed hospitals moved less often and occupied more permanent facilities. American units used some standing hospitals in host or occupied countries, but most were a collection of Nissen huts, 20-ft by 40-ft corrugated tin semi-cylinders. In England, these hospital complexes were often placed on estate grounds, and had concrete floors, flush toilets, clean water, and were heated by coal-burning stoves. In the Mediterranean and Pacific, facilities were more primitive but improved over time. In these theaters, mosquito netting was draped over the beds to prevent transmission of malaria.

Fixed hospitals in the Zone of the Interior (continental United States) enjoyed the benefits of modern buildings and facilities. However, shortages of medication, equipment, and personnel were always a problem.

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sarahsundin2
Sarah Sundin is the author of the Wings of Glory series from Revell: A Distant Melody (March 2010), A Memory Between Us (September 2010), and Blue Skies Tomorrow (August 2011). She has a doctorate in pharmacy from UC San Francisco and works on-call as a hospital pharmacist.

***This content is reposted from December 15, 2010.***

Sarah Sundin: WWII US Army Hospitals Part 1/3

I’m so thrilled to have author Sarah Sundin here this week. If you’re looking for information surrounding WWII, check out all of her posts. Recently, she did a series on WWII nursing. They’re an excellent resource.

US Army Hospitals in World War II—Part 1

Lieutenant Doherty wrote on the clipboard while the mercury rose, and Jack glanced around the Nissen hut, which was like a giant tin can sawed in half. Four coal stoves ran down the aisle, with ten beds on each side, only eight of which were occupied. Jack didn’t mind the extra attention.

In the Wings of Glory series, my B-17 pilot heroes keep getting injured and hospitalized. If you’re writing a novel set during World War II, your soldier characters may need treatment, and you’ll need to understand how and where patients were hospitalized.

sarsunwoundsolToday I’ll discuss the chain of evacuation, on December 15th, I’ll discuss more details about mobile and fixed hospitals, and on December 17th, I’ll cover evacuation of the wounded.

The Chain of Evacuation

Wartime medical treatment occurred on muddy battlefields under fire, tent hospitals only miles from the front, and sterile stateside hospitals.

A complex chain moved patients to where they could best be treated. At all points along this chain, decisions were made regarding when to treat, when to return to duty, and when to evacuate further to the rear.

Organic Medical Units

These units were attached to combat units and followed them into battle.

Battlefield: Medics performed first aid and moved the wounded to the aid station, often under fire.

Battalion aid station: About one mile from front. Physicians and medics adjusted splints and dressings, administered plasma and morphine. Soldiers reported to the aid station for treatment of minor illnesses or mild combat fatigue.

Collecting station: About two miles from front, near regiment command post. Further adjustment of splints and dressings, administration of plasma, treatment of shock.

Clearing station: About four to ten miles from front. Treated shock and minor wounds. Grouped patients in ambulance loads for transport to field hospitals.

Mobile Hospitals

These hospitals were assigned to a theater of operations, and could be packed and moved quickly.

Field Hospitals: Within thirty miles of clearing station—were supposed to receive the wounded within one hour of injury. Surgery was performed for the most severe cases.

Evacuation Hospitals: Treated illnesses and less urgent surgical cases. Patients could be reconditioned here to return to the front.

Fixed Hospitals

These hospitals were set up a safe distance from the front, either in the theater of operations or stateside.

Station Hospitals: Usually attached to a military base, designed to treat illnesses and injuries among personnel stationed at that base.

General Hospitals: Large facilities where patients received long-term treatment.

Convalescent Hospitals: Designed for rehabilitation.

Resources for Research

Cosmas, Graham A. & Cowdrey, Albert E. The Medical Department: Medical Service in the European Theater of Operations. Washington, D.C.: United States Army Center of Medical History, 1992.

Wiltse, Charles M. The Medical Department: Medical Services in the Mediterranean and Minor Theaters. Washington, DC: Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, 1965. (available free on line at http://history.amedd.army.mil/books.html)

Condon-Rall, MaryEllen & Cowdrey, Albert E. The Medical Department: Medical Service in the War Against Japan. Washington, D.C.: United States Army Center of Medical History, 1998.

Links, Mae Mills & Coleman, Hubert A. Medical Support of the Army Air Forces in World War II. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Surgeon General, USAF, 1955.

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sarahsundin2
Sarah Sundin is the author of the Wings of Glory series from Revell: A Distant Melody (March 2010), A Memory Between Us (September 2010), and Blue Skies Tomorrow (August 2011). She has a doctorate in pharmacy from UC San Francisco and works on-call as a hospital pharmacist.

***This content is reposted from December 13, 2010.***

Sarah Sundin: WWII Nursing Part 3/3

This is Sarah’s final installment concerning her research into WWII nursing. I want to thank Sarah for all the great information she provided. I know I learned a lot. What was one interesting thing you learned?

Click the links for Part I and Part II.

wwii-nursing-2US Army Nursing in World War II—Part 3

“Lieutenant Holmes is going into anaphylaxis.”

 Harriet’s elfin face blanched. “Oh no. Thank goodness Dr. Sinclair is on the ward.”

“Not yet.” Ruth grabbed a tray and put two sterilized syringes on top.

“So—so why are you already getting the meds?”

“I want to be ready when he comes. I can’t waste any time.” One vial of adrenaline.

“But he hasn’t ordered them yet.”

 Ruth leveled a look at the girl. “I know the treatment for anaphylaxis.”

“That—that’s presumptuous of you. You’ll make the doctor angry.”

Ruth pulled a vial of morphine. “I don’t care about the doctor’s feelings. I care about my patient’s life.”

In my World War II novel, A Memory Between Us, the heroine, Lt. Ruth Doherty, serves as a US Army Nurse in England. The amount of research seemed daunting, but I found fantastic resources, read intriguing real-life accounts, and gathered fascinating facts about nursing in World War II.

On November 24th, I covered requirements to serve in the Army Nurse Corps. On November 26th, I discussed the training the nurses underwent and rank in the Army Nurse Corps. And today I’ll provide some details on uniforms, nursing practices, and a list of my favorite resources.

Uniforms

On the job, nurses wore a white ward dress with the white nurse’s cap. They were also issued a set of “dress blues,” a dark blue service jacket and a medium blue skirt, a white or blue shirt, black tie, black shoes, and a dark blue garrison cap or service cap. This uniform is pictured on the cover of A Memory Between Us. A dark blue cape lined with red and an overcoat were also used for outdoors wear. Starting in July 1943, the blue uniform was replaced with an olive drab service jacket and skirt and cap, khaki shirt and tie, and brown shoes—but implementation was slow and sporadic.

In combat areas, white ward dresses and skirted suits were absurdly impractical, but the Army was slow to provide appropriate clothing for women. In 1942 during the early campaign in North Africa, the women resorted to wearing men’s fatigues and boots—in men’s sizes. In time the nurses were issued WAC (Women’s Army Corps) field uniforms and the popular Parson’s field jacket, as well as easily laundered seersucker ward outfits, both dresses and pantsuits.

Nursing Practice

On the ward, the nurse was assisted by a male medic, an enlisted man. Some men had serious problems taking orders from women, and some didn’t. In stateside hospitals, Red Cross nurses’ aides also served. Physicians entered the Medical Corps with the rank of captain and only male physicians were admitted to the Corps. As was typical in the 1940s, the physicians expected unquestioning, speedy obedience from nurses.

For the writer, it’s important to remember this was long before our disposable, single-use, universal precautions era. Syringes were made of glass and were sterilized in bichloride of mercury before reuse. Gloves were washed and reused—and holes were even patched. Improvisation was the rule, especially in combat areas, and nurses used their creativity and imagination to turn trash into useful items.

Resources

http://history.amedd.army.mil/ANCWebsite/anchome.html (The official website for Army Nurse Corps history.)

Sarnecky, Mary T. “A History of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps.” Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999. (A comprehensive history with a thick section on WWII).

Tomblin, Barbara Brooks. “G.I. Nightingales: the Army Nurse Corps in World War II.” Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1996. (A wonderful history, including all theaters, full of personal stories).

Brayley, Martin. “World War II Allied Nursing Services.” Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2002. (Detailed information on military nurses’ uniforms).

http://library.uncg.edu/dp/wv/ (The Women Veterans Historical Project—a vast collection of oral histories, letters, photographs, diaries and other treasures).

http://history.amedd.army.mil/books.html (Prepare to get lost…this website contains dozens of on-line historical medical texts, from detailed—800 page!—books describing medical services in each theater, to period textbooks used for neuropsychiatry to infectious disease to orthopedic surgery).

***This blog originally posted 11/29/2010***
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sarahsundin2Sarah Sundin is the author of the Wings of Glory series from Revell: A Distant Melody (March 2010), A Memory Between Us (September 2010), and Blue Skies Tomorrow (August 2011). She has a doctorate in pharmacy from UC San Francisco and works on-call as a hospital pharmacist.

Sarah Sundin: WWII Nursing Part 2/3

We’re continuing our three part series with historical author Sarah Sundin about her research into WWII nursing. You can find Part I here.

US Army Nursing in World War II—Part 2

wwii-nursingRuth hugged her knees to her chest, her dark blue cape tented around her against the gray chill.

            Where would the money come from? Promotions were meager in the Army Nurse Corps. All the nurses were second lieutenants except the chief nurse, a first lieutenant. At twenty-three, Ruth was too young and inexperienced to become a chief nurse.

            She’d always solved her own problems, but now she longed for advice, and she kept thinking about Major Novak.

In my World War II novel, A Memory Between Us, the heroine, Lt. Ruth Doherty serves as a US Army Nurse in England. The amount of research seemed daunting, but I found fantastic resources, read intriguing real-life accounts, and gathered fascinating facts about nursing in World War II.

On November 24th, I covered requirements to serve in the Army Nurse Corps. Today I’ll discuss the training the nurses underwent and rank in the Army Nurse Corps. And on November 29th, I’ll provide some details on uniforms, nursing practices, and a list of my favorite resources.

Recruitment and Training

The American Red Cross served as the traditional reserve for the Army Nurse Corps. On October 9, 1940, the ANC called the reserves to active duty, to volunteer for a one-year commitment. At first there was no formal military training for nurses. On July 19, 1943, the first basic training center for nurses opened. Training centers were located at Fort Devens, MA; Halloran General Hospital, Staten Island, NY; Camp McCoy, WI; and Brooke General Hospital in San Antonio, TX. The nurses trained for four weeks, learning military courtesy and practices, sanitation, ward management, camouflage, the use of gas masks, and map reading. They also drilled and underwent physical training.

To train the increased number of nurses needed during the war, Congress authorized the Cadet Nurse Corps on July 1, 1943. The government paid for women to attend civilian nursing programs in exchange for service in the Army Nurse Corps upon graduation. The women in this accelerated program (two and a half years instead of three) had their own special cadet uniforms.

Rank

Nurses entered the ANC as second lieutenants, and the vast majority of them stayed at that rank. The chief nurse of a hospital was usually a first lieutenant, but sometimes a second lieutenant or a captain. The highest rank in the ANC was held by the superintendent of the ANC, a colonel.

Even so, nurses held “relative rank.” They held the title, wore the insignia, were admitted to officers’ clubs, and had the privilege of the salute, but they had limited authority in the line of duty and initially received less pay than men of similar rank. On December 22, 1942, Congress authorized military nurses to receive pay equivalent to a man of the same rank without dependents, and on June 22, 1944, Congress authorized temporary commissions with full pay and privileges.

One of the main reasons nurses were granted officer status was to “protect” them from the great crowd of enlisted men, and—it was often thought—for male officers to keep the women for themselves. The Army had rules against fraternization between officers and enlisted personnel.

***This blog originally posted 11/26/2010.***

*********************************************************************************************sarahsundin2Sarah Sundin is the author of the Wings of Glory series from Revell: A Distant Melody (March 2010), A Memory Between Us (September 2010), and Blue Skies Tomorrow (August 2011). She has a doctorate in pharmacy from UC San Francisco and works on-call as a hospital pharmacist.

Sarah Sundin: WWII Nursing Part 1/3

Redwood’s Medical Edge is pleased to host historical author Sarah Sundin who has done extensive research regarding nursing during WWII.

US Army Nursing in World War II—Part 1

a-memory-between “I love this smell, don’t you?” May said.

            “Bichloride of mercury?” Ruth laughed and shook water from a pair of gloves. “Only a nurse would like this smell.”

            May rolled syringes in a pan of the blue green disinfectant. “In the orphanage I had no control over my life, but with soapy water and a stiff brush, I could scrub away the smells and pretend I lived in a castle.”

            Ruth draped the brown latex gloves over a clothesline to dry before being sterilized. “Cleanliness may not be next to godliness, but it beats back the demons of poverty.”

In my World War II novel, A Memory Between Us, the heroine, Lt. Ruth Doherty serves as a US Army Nurse in England. The amount of research seemed daunting at first, but I found fantastic resources, read intriguing real-life accounts, and gathered fascinating facts about nursing in World War II.

Combat produces injuries. Injuries require treatment. If you write a novel set during World War II, you may have to write a medical scene—and you’ll want to get the details right about your nurse characters.

During World War II, 57,000 women served in the US Army Nurse Corps (ANC), 11,000 in the Navy Nurse Corps (NNC), and 6500 in the Army Air Forces. More than two hundred nurses died serving their country.

Today I’ll cover requirements to serve in the Army Nurse Corps. On November 26th, I’ll discuss the training the nurses underwent and rank in the Army Nurse Corps. And on November 29th, I’ll provide some details on uniforms, nursing practices, and a list of my favorite resources.

Requirements

To serve in the Army Nurse Corps, women had to be 21-40 years old (raised to 45 later in the war), unmarried (married nurses were accepted starting in late 1942), a high school graduate, a graduate of a 3-year nursing training program, licensed in at least one state, a US citizen or a citizen of an Allied country, 5’0”-6’0,” have a physician’s certificate of health and a letter testifying to moral and professional excellence.

Pregnancy was the main cause of discharge from the Army Nurse Corps, or as the women called it, PWOP (Pregnant WithOut Permission). To discourage pregnancy, the Army had a cumbersome process to gain approval for marriage. Other methods to prevent pregnancy included careful placement of nurses’ quarters, discouraging drinking, and encouraging the women to socialize in groups. The second main reason for discharge was “neuropsychiatric,” what we call combat fatigue nowadays.

Remember that gender and race discrimination was still rampant in the 1940s. Male nurses were not allowed in the ANC during World War II, and only a limited number of African-American nurses. Despite a large number of black registered nurses in the United States, fewer than five hundred were allowed to serve, and then only to care for black patients or for prisoners of war.

***This post originally published 11/24/2010.***

*********************************************************************************************sarahsundin2Sarah Sundin is the author of the Wings of Glory series from Revell: A Distant Melody (March 2010), A Memory Between Us (September 2010), and Blue Skies Tomorrow (August 2011). She has a doctorate in pharmacy from UC San Francisco and works on-call as a hospital pharmacist.

Medical Air Evacuation in World War II—Part 3

I am so so pleased to host amazing author and fellow research hound, Sarah Sundin, back to Redwood’s this week. Sarah is a fabulous historical author whose novels highlight the WWII era. This week she is discussing her research into medical air evacuation and flight nursing.

Sarah has also graciously agreed to give away one copy of her newest release, With Every Letter, to once commentor on any of this weeks posts. Simply leave a comment with your e-mail address. Must live in the USA. Drawing will be midnight, Saturday September 29th. Winner anounced here at Redwood’s Sunday, September 30th.

Welcome back, Sarah!

The broad grin on the private’s face didn’t reveal how serious his condition was. “Hiya, nursey.”

“Lieutenant,” Mellie said, but she smiled back. “How are you feeling?”

“Depends. How many girls you got at that hospital in Algiers?”


“Oh, not one of them is good enough for you.”


“She wears a skirt, she’s good enough.”


Mellie clucked her tongue. “Too bad. All the women wear trousers.”


In my novel With Every Letter, the heroine serves as a flight nurse. If you’re writing a novel set during World War II, a soldier character may get sick or wounded, and you might need to understand medical air evacuation.


On September 24th I discussed general principles of air evacuation, on September 26th we followed one patient in his flight experience, and today we’ll meet the flight nurse.


Training

The profession of flight nursing began in World War II. The US Army Air Force started the first training program at Bowman Field in Louisville, Kentucky in the fall of 1942. Training was haphazard at this point, and the first two squadrons (the 801st and 802nd) were sent overseas before training was complete. The formal program ran six to nine weeks, changing throughout the war. The first class of flight nurses graduated in February 1943.

The program was named the School of Air Evacuation in June 1943 and moved from Bowman Field to Randolph Field, Texas in October 1944. The US Navy started a flight nursing program in December 1944 in Alameda, California.


In training, the nurses studied academic subjects such as aeromedical physiology. They also learned field survival, map-reading, camouflage, ditching and crash procedures, and the use of the parachute. The program included calisthenics, physical conditioning, and a bivouac in the field with simulated enemy attack.


Organization


Each Medical Air Evacuation Transport Squadron (MAETS) was headed by a flight surgeon and chief nurse. The MAETS was divided into four flights, each led by a flight surgeon and composed of six teams of flight nurses and surgical technicians. A Headquarters section included clerks, cooks, and drivers.


Uniform

The typical Army Nurse Corps uniform of white dress or a skirted suit uniform did not work in flight. Although some resisted—including in ANC leadership—the women were allowed to wear trousers. The first few squadrons improvised uniforms, often cutting down the dark blue ANC service jacket and purchasing trousers. Eventually an official flight nurse uniform was authorized—a waist-length gray-blue jacket and matching trousers and skirt, with a light blue or white blouse. Depending on the climate, nurses also wore the combat airman’s heavy flight gear.


The official insignia of the flight nurse was a pair of golden wings with a maroon N superimposed. These wings were changed to silver later in the war.


Duties


The role of the flight nurse was revolutionary. No physician accompanied her on the flight, and she outranked the male surgical technician, who worked under her authority. She was trained to start IVs and oxygen, tasks reserved for physicians at the time. In addition, she was trained to deal with medical emergencies including shock, hemorrhage, and sedation. One flight nurse even performed an emergency tracheotomy using improvised equipment.


Dangers

The primary responsibility for the lives of the patients rested on the shoulders of the flight nurses. Their emergency training was put into use in many cases throughout the war. Flight nurses and technicians successfully evacuated patients into life rafts after a ditching in the Pacific, unloaded patients from a burning plane after crash landing in North Africa, and loaded patients under enemy fire in the jungles of Burma.

One flight nurse was taken prisoner briefly by the Germans after crashing behind enemy lines, and another parachuted to safety in the mountains of China. In one dramatic incident, a plane carrying a dozen nurses from Sicily to Italy was blown off course and crash landed in Nazi-occupied Albania. With the help of their survival training and Albanian partisans, the crew and nurses all evaded capture and crossed snowy mountains to be rescued at the coast—a two-month ordeal.


Seventeen flight nurses lost their lives during the war. Lt. Ruth Gardiner, 805thMAETS (pictured), was the first flight nurse killed, in a plane crash in Alaska.


Through professionalism and courage, the five hundred women who served as flight nurses in World War II saved many hundreds of lives and comforted over a million sick and wounded servicemen.


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Sarah Sundin is the author of the Wings of Glory series from Revell: A Distant Melody (March 2010), A Memory Between Us (September 2010), and Blue Skies Tomorrow (August 2011). She has a doctorate in pharmacy from UC San Francisco and works on-call as a hospital pharmacist.