Spotlights

Women of WWII: Army Nurse Corps

Conflict: World War II

Two Army flight nurses discuss their patients as they wait for take-off. Manus Is., Admiralty Islands, SW Pacific.

Two Army flight nurses discuss their patients as they wait for take-off. Manus Is., Admiralty Islands, SW Pacific.

At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, there were less than 1,000 women serving in the Army Nurse Corps; but by the time the war ended four years later, over 59,000 nurses had joined the Corps.

Nurses had to graduate from nursing school to be accepted by the Army, so when the U.S. entered the war, the thousands of nurses who first joined the Corps (there were 12,000 within six months of Pearl Harbor) had either already been working in hospitals or had recently passed their nursing exams. But as the war progressed, the demand for trained nurses grew, so between 1943 and 1948 the government paid for women to attend nursing school. As a result, young women began entering nursing school with the express goal of enlisting in the Army (or Navy) upon graduation.

After enlistment, Army nurses attended a four-week basic training, where they were taught “Army organization; military customs and courtesies; field sanitation; defense against air, chemical, and mechanized attack; personnel administration; military requisitions and correspondence, and property responsibility.” After completing their training, some nurses served stateside at Army and Air Force bases, while others were shipped overseas, everywhere from North Africa, to Europe, to the Pacific, to Asia, and beyond.

Overseas, some nurses served near the frontlines in field hospitals, others in evacuation hospitals a little further back, and still others in more permanent station and general hospitals. There were also flight nurses, who worked with the Air Force and cared for patients during medical air evacuations. In addition to caring for wounded and ill soldiers, Army nurses also supervised male corpsmen, who generally did the more menial and routine hospital tasks. As well as general nursing, some nurses specialized in specific areas such as anesthesia or psychiatric care—two specialties in high demand during the war.

Wherever there was fighting—from Anzio to Normandy to Corregidor—there were nurses not far behind. But nursing in wartime could be dangerous: 201 nurses lost their lives during the war—16 directly from enemy fire—and others were captured as prisoners of war (in one case, 67 Army nurses were held as POWs for 3 years in the Philippines by the Japanese). But the nurses showed they were brave as well as skilled, and for their courage they were awarded 1,619 medals, citations, and commendations over the course of the war.

The first nurses to arrive on Pantelleria shortly after Allied assault forces took over the tiny Mediterranean isle are shown leaving the small craft in which they made the rough voyage from North Africa.

The first nurses to arrive on Pantelleria shortly after Allied assault forces took over the tiny Mediterranean isle are shown leaving the small craft in which they made the rough voyage from North Africa.

To relieve the nursing problem of Santo Tomas University prison camp, recently liberated by our forces in Manila, Luzon, P.I., a shipment of U.S. Army nurses arrive in the compound and are immediately put to work. The nurses were rushed up from one of our southern holdings and this marks the first time that many of them have been but a few hundred yards from the desperately fighting Japanese. […] February 1945.

To relieve the nursing problem of Santo Tomas University prison camp, recently liberated by our forces in Manila, Luzon, P.I., a shipment of U.S. Army nurses arrive in the compound and are immediately put to work. The nurses were rushed up from one of our southern holdings and this marks the first time that many of them have been but a few hundred yards from the desperately fighting Japanese. […] February 1945.

Flight nurses of the 7th Air Force during jungle training on bivouac area at Oahu, Hawaii. 21 May 1944.

Flight nurses of the 7th Air Force during jungle training on bivouac area at Oahu, Hawaii. 21 May 1944.

Nurse Lt. Ione E. Vogel from St. Peter, Minnesota, administers to patients in the surgical orthopedics ward of the 58th Evacuation Hospital on Los Negros, Admiralty Islands.

Nurse Lt. Ione E. Vogel from St. Peter, Minnesota, administers to patients in the surgical orthopedics ward of the 58th Evacuation Hospital on Los Negros, Admiralty Islands.

Nurse Katye Swope, 802nd Medical Air Evacuation Transport Squadron, in a Douglas C-47 loaded with eighteen patients to be evacuated to Africa.

Nurse Katye Swope, 802nd Medical Air Evacuation Transport Squadron, in a Douglas C-47 loaded with eighteen patients to be evacuated to Africa.

Wounded personnel resting under the wing of Douglas C-47 "Skytrain," Rosales Airstrip, Luzon, Philippine Islands. Flight Nurses of the 409th Medical Col. Company take information for manifest of patients. 22 May 1945.

Wounded personnel resting under the wing of Douglas C-47 “Skytrain,” Rosales Airstrip, Luzon, Philippine Islands. Flight Nurses of the 409th Medical Col. Company take information for manifest of patients. 22 May 1945.

1st Lt. Madeline M. Norris, left, of Hollis, New York, Army Nurse assigned to a Medical Air Evacuation Squadron in a wing of the 14th Air Force, receives the Air Medal from Maj. General Claire L. Chennault at a base in China on 8 May 1945. […]

1st Lt. Madeline M. Norris, left, of Hollis, New York, Army Nurse assigned to a Medical Air Evacuation Squadron in a wing of the 14th Air Force, receives the Air Medal from Maj. General Claire L. Chennault at a base in China on 8 May 1945.

Find out much more about WWII Army nurses here. Or find additional photos of them in Fold3’s WWII US Air Force Photos collection. Fold3 also has hundreds of documents mentioning the Nurse Corps as well as their service in field hospitals, in evacuation hospitals, and as flight nurses during World War II. You can also watch interviews with former WWII Army nurses here, here, and here, or read about their counterpart, the Navy Nurse Corps, here. Or you can read about women serving in other capacities during the war in our Fold3 spotlights about the Women’s Army Corps, Women Air Force Service Pilots, or the Women’s Land Army.

Women of WWII: WACs

Conflict: World War II

WAC sergeant Amy Albert receives the keys to a staff car from its former driver

WAC sergeant Amy Albert receives the keys to a staff car from its former driver

They served in England, France, Italy, the South Pacific, North Africa, India, and numerous other countries, as well as stateside. They worked with the Army as typists, file clerks, and stenographers, but also in over 200 other types of positions, including as mechanics, instructors, weather forecasters, photo analysts, telephone operators, parachute riggers, drivers, radio operators, electricians, and cryptographers. Who was this versatile group? The Women’s Army Corps (WAC).

The WAC was originally formed as the WAAC (Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps) in 1942 as an auxiliary to the Army, but in 1943 it was incorporated into that military branch and renamed the WAC. The goal of the WAC was to free up men for WWII combat by replacing them with women in noncombatant military jobs. As WAAC/WAC director Oveta Culp Hobby saw it, “The gaps our women will fill are in those noncombatant jobs where women’s hands and women’s hearts fit naturally.” Not all WAACs and WACs were quite so optimistic about their positions, however; as one disillusioned WAAC put it, “The WAAC mission is the same old women’s mission, […] to stand by and do dull routine work while the men are gone.” This opinion may have had some basis, as the vast majority of WACs were limited to clerical and communications jobs that the Army deemed “appropriate” for women.

Over the course of the war, around 150,000 WACs served at home and abroad. Although they faced discrimination and criticism from various male soldiers and some of the folks back home, WACs were in high demand, and the officers they worked with praised them for their hard work and skill. In fact, General Eisenhower said, “During the time I have had WACs under my command they have met every test and task assigned to them . . . their contributions in efficiency, skill, spirit and determination are immeasurable.” That “efficiency, skill, spirit and determination” was proved by the fact that at the end of the war, 657 WACs received citations or medals.

Below are some photos from Fold3’s WWII US Air Force Photos collection that capture WACs hard at work. The original captions have been included:

England-Bombers returning from missions over Germany which have been damaged of have lost their bearings receive new directions from these WACs in a mobile control unit truck. The WACs standing around the table are plotters who by means of strings track the course of the plane on an operational map. The WAC in the background is the controller’s clerk. The officer is the controller whose job is to maintain direct communications with the pilot, the course of whose ship the WACs are plotting.

England—Bombers returning from missions over Germany which have been damaged or have lost their bearings receive new directions from these WACs in a mobile control unit truck. The WACs standing around the table are plotters who by means of strings track the course of the plane on an operational map. The WAC in the background is the controller’s clerk. The officer is the controller whose job is to maintain direct communications with the pilot, the course of whose ship the WACs are plotting.

Accurate Counting . . . WAC T/5 Catherine Hardy of Homestead Park, Pennsylvania, knows that clothing items stored in the Quartermaster Depot somewhere in Australia must be accurately counted. T/5 Hardy arrived in Australia with the first group of WACS on 12 May 1944.

Accurate Counting . . . WAC T/5 Catherine Hardy of Homestead Park, Pennsylvania, knows that clothing items stored in the Quartermaster Depot somewhere in Australia must be accurately counted. T/5 Hardy arrived in Australia with the first group of WACS on 12 May 1944.

WAC Pfc. Ona May Murray of Monteray, Calif., is shown at work in the operations room at an airbase somewhere in England. 11 January 1944.

WAC Pfc. Ona May Murray of Monteray, Calif., is shown at work in the operations room at an airbase somewhere in England. 11 January 1944.

Interior view of switchboard room operated by WACs at Pine Tree, High Wycombe, Bucks, England. 28 September 1943.

Interior view of switchboard room operated by WACs at Pine Tree, High Wycombe, Bucks, England. 28 September 1943.

At teletype machines in Headquarters of the 12th Air Force are T/4 Florence S. Roth of New Orleans, Louisiana, and T/5 Frances Spooner Of Ely, Minnesota, members of an Air WAC platoon. Italy.

At teletype machines in Headquarters of the 12th Air Force are T/4 Florence S. Roth of New Orleans, Louisiana, and T/5 Frances Spooner Of Ely, Minnesota, members of an Air WAC platoon. Italy.

On the job in Australia . . . . These officers of the Women's Army Corps are seen at work on the night shift of the Postal Section somewhere in Australia, correctly addressing mail to be forwarded to the advance bases. This is part of a group of 70 WAC officers who volunteered to work the swing shift while awaiting transportation to another area, in order to clean up a backlog of mail.

On the job in Australia . . . . These officers of the Women’s Army Corps are seen at work on the night shift of the Postal Section somewhere in Australia, correctly addressing mail to be forwarded to the advance bases. This is part of a group of 70 WAC officers who volunteered to work the swing shift while awaiting transportation to another area, in order to clean up a backlog of mail.

WAC Pfc. Rose Mallory of the 1306th AAF Base Unit, Air Transport Command, welds broken part of an engine. India, 31 August 1945.

WAC Pfc. Rose Mallory of the 1306th AAF Base Unit, Air Transport Command, welds broken part of an engine. India, 31 August 1945.

A member of Women's Army Corps at work. 8th Air Force, England, 29 March 1944.

A member of Women’s Army Corps at work. 8th Air Force, England, 29 March 1944.

Learn more about WAACs and WACs here. Or find many more free images of them on Fold3 here. There are also thousands of pages on Fold3 about them, which you can find using this search. Or read Fold3 spotlights about Women Air Force Service Pilots or the Women’s Land Army. You can also watch an original WAC recruitment video here.

Beards of the Civil War

Conflict: Civil War

C.G. Pride

C.G. Pride sporting impressive facial hair

How many different ways are there to wear a beard? Quite a few, judging from these Civil War photographs.

Some seem fairly normal by today’s standards.

C. Schurz

C. Schurz

Lt. Col. G.E. Chamberlain, 1st Vermont Art.

Lt. Col. G.E. Chamberlain, 1st Vermont Art.

C.P. Adams, 1st Minn

C.P. Adams, 1st Minn

Others were a little more unusual.

R.S. Ewell, C.S.A

R.S. Ewell, C.S.A

Surg. J.B. Laidley, 85th Pa Inf.

Surg. J.B. Laidley, 85th Pa Inf.

Charles H. Crane

Charles H. Crane

Still others followed the latest trend.

Lt. Wright, USN

Lt. Wright, USN

C.C. Augur

C.C. Augur

J. Kilpatrick

J. Kilpatrick

And then there were those that were . . . well, let’s just call them “unique.”

Gen. Daniel Ullman of N.Y.

Gen. Daniel Ullman of N.Y.

Lt. Col. B.H. Hill, 5th U.S. Artillery

Lt. Col. B.H. Hill, 5th U.S. Artillery

Ripley, C.S.A

Ripley, C.S.A

These photos are just the tip of the iceberg! Find many other crazy beard styles in Fold3’s free Civil War Photos and Brady Civil War Photos collections.

Hero of the High Seas

Conflict: War of 1812

Stephen Decatur’s capture of a Tripolitan gunboat in 1804 (artwork by F.O. Darley)

Stephen Decatur’s capture of a Tripolitan gunboat in 1804 (artwork by F.O. Darley)

Stephan Decatur just might be the most famous military hero you’ve never heard of. Born in Maryland in 1779, at age eight Decatur went on a sea voyage with his father to try to cure the boy’s whooping cough. Not only did the whooping cough go away, but Decatur also fell in love with the sea on the journey. So at nineteen, despite his mother’s protests, Decatur was commissioned a midshipman. A year later, during the Quasi-War with France, Decatur was made a lieutenant, and he served well enough to survive the Navy’s downsizing after the conflict ended.

However, it was a few years later during the First Barbary War that Decatur really made a name for himself. In February 1804, Decatur lead a group of 80 men to recapture the USS Philadelphia, which had been taken over by Barbary pirates after running aground. Decatur and his men tricked the pirates into thinking they were Maltese sailors and got close enough that they could storm the ship. In less than 10 minutes the Americans had defeated the pirates, and since the ship was too damaged to refloat, Decatur had it set on fire. Decatur’s bold actions made him immediately famous back home, and in recognition of Decatur’s actions, he was made captain not too long after, becoming, at 25, the youngest with that rank.

Stephen Decatur (portrait by John Wesley Jarvis)

Stephen Decatur (portrait by John Wesley Jarvis)

After the Barbary War, Decatur oversaw the building of some gunboats back in the U.S. and also commanded ships patrolling the East Coast, until the War of 1812 broke out. His most famous action during this war was when his ship captured the HMS Macedonian. Decatur and his crew fought so skillfully in that battle that they only had 12 casualties, compared to the 104 British ones. Unfortunately, in early 1815 his luck ran out and he was taken prisoner by the British after his ship was damaged in battle, though his imprisonment lasted less than a month and he was treated well due to his rank and fame.

Excerpt from the prize case for the Macedonian: That the said Stephen Decatur captain and commander of the said Frigate called the United States as aforesaid did in pursuance of the said state of war and of instructions from the President of the said United States […] subdue seize and take as prize of war a certain ship vessel or Frigate called the Macedonian . . .

Excerpt from the prize case for the Macedonian: “That the said Stephen Decatur captain and commander of the said Frigate called the United States as aforesaid did in pursuance of the said state of war and of instructions from the President of the said United States […] subdue seize and take as prize of war a certain ship vessel or Frigate called the Macedonian . . .”

Decatur’s heroism wasn’t over yet, however. After the end of the War of 1812, Decatur, by now a commodore, commanded the 10 ships of the U.S. Mediterranean Squadron, which sailed back to the Barbary Coast in mid-1815 to try to defeat the pirates once more. This being Stephen Decatur, it wasn’t too long until he was able to capture the pirates’ flagship and use “gunboat diplomacy” to make the dey of Algiers agree to a treaty advantageous to the United States.

Decatur returned to America as famous as ever and was asked to serve as a Navy commissioner, which he did starting in 1816. Life was good for Decatur until 1820, when a fellow naval officer, James Barron, challenged Decatur to a duel for what Barron saw as Decatur’s deliberate maligning of his reputation for the earlier Chesapeake-Leopard Affair. This wasn’t Decatur’s first duel, and in fact, duels were quite common among naval officers at the time. Nevertheless, when the two men fired their shots, both hit their targets. However, while Barron survived, Decatur’s injury to the abdomen ultimately proved fatal and he died later that night. He was only 41.

The London Times reports Decatur’s death; it mistakenly reports him killed by Commodore Barrow (instead of Barron) in New York (instead of Washington DC)

The London Times reports Decatur’s death; it mistakenly reports him killed by Commodore Barrow (instead of Barron) in New York (instead of Washington DC)

Read more about Stephen Decatur here, here, or here. Or find documents pertaining to his career and exploits on Fold3.

Malingering Again

Conflict: Civil War

Partial headline from a San Francisco Chronicle article on malingering

Partial headline from a San Francisco Chronicle article on malingering

Malingering, as we learned in a previous spotlight, was when a soldier faked or exaggerated an illness or disability in order to get out of duty. It was especially prevalent during the Civil War, and one surgeon, William Williams Keen, saw a lot of cases of it in the course of working at Turner’s Lane Hospital in Philadelphia during the war. Keen came away from his time there with valuable insight into detecting malingering, but he also came away with some amusing stories of just how the malingers were caught.

One malingerer, a private in the 61st New York, complained of, among other things, severe hearing loss and lameness. The faked hearing loss was fairly easy for the doctors to catch: while under the guise of examining the man’s leg, the doctors began asking him questions more and more quietly, until not even those around them could hear. But the malingerer, distracted by his lies about his leg, forgot to fake the hearing loss and unwittingly responded to the doctors’ quiet questions, which he shouldn’t have been able to hear. Proving the private’s lameness was also faked proved more challenging. When the doctors revoked the crutches he used to hobble around, the man simply stayed in bed. On top of that, his leg really was swollen. Eventually, the doctors discovered that the man made his leg swell by sitting with his leg pressed into the crutch, but their real proof came one night when the hospital steward heard an unusual noise. It turned out to be the malingerer with the supposed painful leg dropping from the eaves and then scaling a 14-foot pavilion to sneak out of the hospital. The next morning, the malingerer denied it ever happened. Keen and his colleagues finally gave up and sent the man to a different hospital, but three months later they saw him again, walking around without the slightest limp.

A veteran’s observations on malingering during the Civil War

A veteran’s observations on malingering during the Civil War from the Chicago Tribune

Another private, this time of the 12th Pennsylvania Reserves, claimed that he had palsy (paralysis often accompanied by shaking) on the left side of his body. One night, however, while attending a dance in the hospital mess room, the malingerer was overcome by the music and forgot himself, dancing for all to see. The man was quickly sent back to duty.

Yet another private, this one faking epilepsy (seizures) from a dog bite, was so bad at it that everyone suspected him, and he finally felt guilty and confessed. Another soldier pretended that his arm was paralyzed, but this charade only lasted until he was anesthetized and he came out of it yawning and stretching his supposed paralyzed arm. Anesthesia also proved the downfall of a malingerer faking muteness in a neighboring Philadelphia hospital. Although he supposedly couldn’t speak, as the anesthesia wore off, the man unintentionally began talking. Realizing his mistake, the quick-thinking man fell on his knees in front of the doctor and exclaimed, “Thank God, doctor! You have restored my voice.”

An anecdote about malingering from the Civil War

An anecdote about malingering in the Civil War from the Chicago Tribune

These are just a few of the many stories Keen had to tell about malingerers. Read many more stories about Keen’s experiences with malingering here or here. Or search Fold3 for other information on malingering, on Keen, or on life in Civil War hospitals.