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Short History of Military Nursing : Home


Due to ongoing involvement, no historical information on the "War on Terror" in Iraq or Afghanistan is included in this subject guide. 

What is a "Military Nurse?"

What is a military nurse? in the most basic sense of the word it is a nurse who also serves in the military and holds military rank. All the services currently have nursing branches which are called corps. A corps is a semi-independent or independent military command whose members are grouped together because they share a common mission or career focus. In the case of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard the corps share the common mission of nursing.

Nurses and female physicians who have been awarded commendations from the US Armed Forces:​

History of Military Branch Nursing Corps

Navy Nurse Corps was officially established by Congress in 1908; however, unofficially, women had been working as nurses aboard Navy ships and in Navy hospitals for nearly 100 years.

Army Nurse Corps
During World War II (1939-45) nearly sixty thousand American nurses served in the Army Nurse Corps (ANC). Whether stationed in Europe or in the Pacific, they risked their lives daily, working on or near the front lines; on land, sea, and air transport vehicles; and in field hospitals.

Air Force Nurse Corps
Nurses within the U.S. Air Force initially were "flight nurses" which envolved out the the Army Air Corp during World War II. In 1947, the U.S. Air Force was established and in 1949 the Air Force Nurse Corps emerged from the Army in which 1,199 nurses were brought over to the Air Force branch.

U.S. Marine Corps
The U.S. Navy oversees the medical needs of the U.S. Marine Corps.


Military Nursing Casualty Statistics

The casualty figures below are not definitive. These figures represent the best of our knowledge to date and include deaths from all causes: hostile fire, illness as a result of military service, and accidents that occurred in the line of duty during times of war. We do not have statistics for earlier wars, because women were not yet serving officially in the Armed Forces.

Spanish American War: Twenty one contract nurses died from diseases such as typhoid, and malaria.

World War I: 430 casualties. Many of these were Army and Navy Nurses who died from influenza — an epidemic swept through military ports and bases in the U.S. and Europe. Two women (Army nurses stationed in Europe) were wounded by hostile fire, but did not die.

World War II: 460 casuaties. Six Army nurses died from hostile fire at Anzio Beachhead, 1944. Six Army nurses died when a Japanese suicide plane crashed into the Hospital Ship, USS Comfort near the Philippine Islands in 1945. Less than twenty others died from hostile fire in isolated incidents in North Africa, Europe, and the Southwest Pacific Area during WWII. The majority of women died from weather-related plane crashes, motor vehicle accidents, other work-related accidents, and disease. Included in this figure are 38 WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilot) deaths from weather related accidents, mechanical failures, and pilot training errors.

Korea: Sixteen Army, Navy and Air Force Nurses in theater or enroute to the battle theater – other servicewomen were not permitted in theater. None died directly from hostile fire. Army Nurse Genevieve Smith’s aircraft crashed en route to Korea early in the war. One Navy Nurse died when a U.S. Navy Hospital Ship was accidentally rammed by a freighter off the California coast. Eleven Navy Nurses died when their plane crashed off Kwajalein Island enroute to Japan. Captain Vera Brown, Air Force Nurse died when the plane she was assigned to crashed during a medical evacuation flight. Two other Air Force nurses also died in air crashes.

Vietnam: Eight nurses in theater or enroute to theater. One Army Nurse, Lt. Sharon Lane, died from hostile fire.

You'll Know You're a Military Nurse When...

Read stories submitted by military nurses or submit your own at the Sigma Theta Tau International website "You'll Know You're a Military Nures when...".  Sigma Theta Tau has also published a book of military nurse stories from Workd War II to present day military action.

Medical Heritage LIbrary

The Medical Heritage Library is a collection of scanned public domain books, on medicine, pharmacy, nursing, and allied areas. Basic metadata for each text is included, and downloads are available in portable document format (PDF), Kindle, and a variety of other file formats.

Readers can browse by collection, title, or subject area.  The following link will direct you to:

Nurse Corps