Preserving Our Past, Capitalizing on the Present, Embracing the Future

Highlights in the History of the Army Nurse Corps, 1940 to 1950

Johns Hopkins, 118th General Hospital, Baltimore, 1942When the U.S. entered World War II following the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 there were fewer than 7,000 nurses on active duty. By 1945, more than 57,000 Army nurses were assigned to hospital ships and trains; flying ambulances; and field, evacuation, station, and general hospitals at home and overseas. This is the largest number of nurses on active duty in the history of the organization.

WWII flight nurse in C-47Wartime experience brought innovations that revolutionized medical services. Military nursing gained a greater understanding of the process of shock, blood replacement, and resuscitation. These healthcare professionals assisted in developing recovery wards for immediate postoperative nursing care. Air evacuation from the combat zone by fixed-wing aircraft brought patients to definitive treatment quickly. Army flight nurses helped to establish an incredible record of deaths in flight – only five per 100,000 patients.

These officers endured hardships while caring for their patients. On May 1942, with the fall of Corregidor in the Philippines, 67 Army nurses became Japanese prisoners of war. During the thirty-seven months captivity, Phillipines POWs leaving Santo Tomas campthese women endured primitive conditions and starvation rations, but still they continued to care for the ill and injured in the internment camp hospital. In Anzio on January 1944,army Army nurses landing in Normandynurses dug their foxholes outside their tents and cared for patients under German shellfire. Their example bolstered the spirits of the soldiers who shared the same tough experience. Two evacuation hospitals, with their complement of nurses, landed in Normandy on June 1944, four days after the invasion.

After the war, broad public health missions required that Army nurses supervise communicable disease measures as former enemy countries were reorganized. In Hiroshima, these officers cared for victims of the atomic bombs. In Munich, they prevented mass epidemic among displaced persons camps. In Hamburg, the healthcare professionals established prenatal clinics, and well baby clinics. In Heidelberg, they helped people psychologically impaired by this tough war.

The Corps’ military status continued to evolve during the post-war demobilization. And what a demobilization it was! In one year, the branch’s active duty end strength dropped from 57,000 to 8,500 Neuropsychiatric trainingpersonnel. On 16 April 1947, Public Law established the ANC in the Medical Department of the Regular Army and authorized an end strength of no less than 2,558 nurses. It also provided permanent commissioned officer status for members of the Corps in the grades of Second Lieutenant through Lieutenant Colonel.

Specialized requirements in military nursing became the focus of the postwar period. Courses were designed in anesthesia, psychiatric, operating room and community health nursing. Army nurses attended the hospital administration course.

 Left side:
  Johns Hopkins' 118th General Hospital Unit, Baltimore, 1942
  WWII Army nurse POWs beginning their journey home in Manila
  Digging a foxhole at Anzio
 Right from top:
  Flight nurse and patients aboard a C-47
  Army Nurses coming ashore at Normandy
  Neuropsychiatric nursing instructor and student
Text by ANCA Historian COL (Ret.) C. J. Moore; Photos courtesy of the Army Medical Department Center of History and Heritage