A group of five World War II flight nurses were awarded Air Medals for their 500 hours spent evacuating the sick and wounded from the frigid Aleutian Islands, off the western coast of Alaska. The nurses, from Flight A, 805th Medical Air Evacuation Squadron, were awarded their medals by Major General Davenport Johnson, 11th AAF Commanding General, and Brigadier General Robert Ignico, 11th AAF Service Command Commanding General.
Missing from the group was 2nd Lt. Ruth Gardiner. Gardiner was killed in a plane crash in July 1943, a mere three months after coming to the Aleutians to work with the evacuation nurse team. Her death gave her the dubious honor of being the first flight nurse to die in WWII. In total, 17 flight nurses died over the course of the war.
Around 500 flight nurses served during WWII. Their job was to care for the sick and wounded while they were evacuated by plane to a medical facility. Besides having typical nursing skills, flight nurses needed to be familiar with how high altitude affected patients and also be trained in crash procedures and survival techniques. According to the National Museum of the Air Force, only 46 of the 1,176,048 patients air evacuated during WWII died en route, due in large part to the efforts of flight nurses.