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Short History of Military Nursing : World War II, 1939-1945

Uniforms & Insignias of ANC

Nurse Corps Art of Caring Coin; click to enlarge

Uniforms of the Army Nurse Corps from World War I until circa 2000. (scroll to bottom of page)

Nurses Serving Overseas

The Army never officially recruited women (the Navy did, after the formation of the Navy Nurse Corps in 1908), and with only a token cadre available had to rely on help from outside. As a result the American Red Cross, acting as a kind of reserve, was to supply quite a number of Nurses, who by consent, were assigned to active duty with the Army Nurse Corps. At one point, so many nurses were needed to fill Army positions both here and abroad, that some serious consideration was given to drafting all available nurses into the military.

During WWII, the Army Nurse Corps was awarded more than 1,600 military decorations. Army Nurses had landed on the beaches of Anzio on the day of the invasion, and Normandy just 4 days after. The only German POW was an Army Nurse, and several Army Nurses were captured by the Japanese and spent the 37 months in a POW camp at Bataan.  Read their story, "We band of angels : the untold story of American nurses trapped on Bataan by the Japanese." UW Historical Society Stacks

Preparation for the conflict again saw the Nurse Corps grow, with nearly eight hundred members serving on active duty by November 1941, plus over nine hundred inactive reserves. By war's end there would be 1,799 active component nurses and 9,222 reserves (with the overwhelming number of reserves on active duty) scattered across six continents.

The Army Air Forces (precursor to the U.S. Air Force) also used specially trained nurses as part of their flight evacuation program. These nurses, known as flight nurses, were specially trained to help transport stable patients from frontline makeshift hospitals in Europe to regular medical facilities in England for further medical treatment, using the same transport planes that the Airborne used to "drop" paratroopers. Although considered experimental for most of the war, the flight nurse program was considered highly successful, and were believed to have saved thousands of lives. The advancements in air evacuation became the forerunner of the helicopter rescue airlift operations during Korea and Vietnam. However, the flight nurse program had the added risk of air travel in addition to being close to the front line. In fact, the only female German POW was a flight nurse. Several other flight nurses narrowly escaped capture, and still others were killed when their planes went down.​​

Diaries and biographies in Library Catalog

There are many first hand accounts of being a nurse in World War II in all operations of theater.  You can search a number of subject headings such as:

Military Nursing --personal narratives
World War, 1939-1945 --Personal narratives, American (very large & diverse results)

Or try this canned Search in Libray Catalog (you will need to enter your UW NetID)

Contact a librarian if you need additional assistance finding more resources within the UW Library Catalog.

Websites of Nurses in WWII