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

Highlights in the History of the Army Nurse Corps, 1950 to 1960

Army nurses played a major role in support of combat troops when President Truman ordered United States forces into Korea in June 1950. Army nurses cared for combat troops during the landing on Inchon, the advance across the 38th parallel into North Korea, the amphibious landing on the east coast of Korea, the drive toward the Yalu River, and the retreat to the 38th parallel. These officers far exceeded the normal scope of nursing practice as they independently triaged, started blood transfusions, initiated courses of penicillin, and sutured wounds. They assumed logistical responsibilities by monitoring supply chests and ordering replacement blood, oxygen and water. They improvised whenever supplies and equipment were not available, scrounging useful items from deserted family quarters or remaking discarded bits and pieces into functional tools. Throughout the Korean War, 540 Army nurses served on the embattled peninsula.

During this time, all the hospitals outside of Korea were busy caring for injured and ill service members who had been transported to their premises. Military medical centers tended 1500-2000 inpatients daily. Air evacuations could come in any time of day so the nurse supervisors and head nurses were constantly managing the number of admissions and discharges so that new patients were assigned beds. Often the hallways and day rooms on the units were used for overflow. Hospital care also expanded to include greater numbers of dependents so obstetrics and pediatrics units were busy caring for family members.

During this decade, many changes took place which have impacted the nurse corps today. The first course in nursing administration, which later became the Captains Career Course, was established at the U.S. Army Medical Field Service School, (to later become the AMEDD Center and School). The twenty-week course included principles of nursing administration, current trends in nursing, principles of supervision and teaching, hospital organization and functions, and personnel administration. Closed-circuit color television was used for the first time in Army nursing instruction, when live coverage of surgical procedures in the operating room at Walter Reed General Hospital was transmitted to a classroom in another building on the hospital’s campus.

A career guidance program was established in the Office of the Surgeon General. In 1955 Public Law 294 authorized commissions for male nurses in the U.S. Army Reserve for assignment to the Army Nurse Corps Branch.

 Left side:
  8055th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital at Yongdungpo, Korea
  Lt. Dolores Navarrette in the orthopedic ward,
      Letterman General Hospital, 1951
 Right from top:
  Triaging and preparing a casualty for surgery in Korea
  2d Lt. Joseph M. Tracy and 1st Lt. John W. O’Brien, the first
      male ANCs to serve in the 4th Army area, are greeted by the
      Command Surgeon and Chief Nurse
Text by ANCA Historian COL (Ret.) C. J. Moore; Photos courtesy of the Army Medical Department Center of History and Heritage