We Honor Veterans Spot Light, World War II Nurses!
World War II Nurses!
War nurses have been some of the most well-known figures throughout nursing history. The massive conflict of WWII transformed the nursing world. During this war over 59,000 nurses served their country in field hospitals, ship hospitals, hospital trains and even some aboard airplanes.
So what did it take to be a war nurse? From 1943 to 1948 the United States government provided free education for nursing students. WWII nurses needed to be between the age of 21 and 40, with no children under the age of 14. Before 1943 they did not need formal training but during that year WWII commissioned nurses were required to be trained in things like field sanitation, mental health and the administration of anesthetics. In June of 1944, Army nurses were granted officer commissions and equal pay.
Unlike other conflicts, WWII brought nurses closer to the front lines unlike ever before. The need for timely care made it necessary for them to be there. They worked in harsh conditions making emergency decisions on the spot in field hospitals. Women were never before put this close to battle, which also put them at serious risk for injury or death. Some of the nurses became prisoners of war in Japan, and a total of 201 nurses died in the war, 16 of them due to enemy actions. Four Army nurses survived the battle of Anzio and received the Silver Star.
Nurses like their military counter parts that fought on the front lines during WWII saw and experienced some very disturbing and gruesome things. They like many servicemen developed PTSD in the wake of their service. In one incident, 79 American Army nurses were held prisoner of war in the Philippines by the Japanese. One nurse Francis Mash grabbed a lethal dose of morphine for each American nurse before they departed to Bataan. This was in case they were taken prisoner by the Japanese. Although it is not well documented many WWII nurses experienced PTSD after returning to the United States and like the other soldiers they often felt alienated and isolated, haunted by what they had seen during the war.
Because most of the nurses were women they received minimal recognition for their service during the post war years. We have had the privilege of caring for several WWII nurses on our hospice services. Although it is decades late I wanted to salute and recognize their service. Those brave women who served as military nurses in WWII should always be remembered for their courage and fortitude. At a time in history when most women did not work outside the home, these women stepped up onto the front lines to support the war effort.