Both men and women have served as Army nurses since 1775, but the Army Nurse Corps did not become a part of the Army Medical Department until 1901. The distinguished contributions of female contract nurses during and following the 1898 Spanish American War became the justification and demonstrated the need for a permanent female nurse corps.
When the United States entered World War I in 1917, there were only 4,093 nurses on active duty. By November 1918, there were 21,460 Army nurses, with 10,000 serving overseas. During the war, nurses served primarily in base, evacuation, and mobile surgical hospitals in the United States, France, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. They also provided care on hospital trains in France and transport ships carrying wounded home across the Atlantic. Approximately 270 nurses lost their lives in the conflict.
When the United States entered World War II, fewer than 7,000 nurses were on active duty. By 1945, more than 57,000 Army Nurses were assigned to hospital ships and trains, flying ambulances, field hospitals, evacuation stations, and general hospitals at home and overseas. In Europe, Army nurses assisted in developing the concept of recovery wards for immediate postoperative nursing care. Military nursing gained a greater understanding of the process of shock, blood replacement and resuscitation. Air evacuation from the combat zone by fixed wing aircraft brought patients to definite treatment quickly. Army flight nurses helped to establish the incredible record of only five deaths in flight per 100,000 patients.
Nurses endured hardships caring for their patients. In May 1942, with the fall of Corregidor in the Philippines, 67 Army nurses became Japanese prisoners of war. During their thirty-seven month captivity, the women endured primitive conditions and starvation rations, yet they continued to care for the ill and injured in the internment hospital. On Anzio, nurses dug their foxholes outside their tents and cared for patients under German shell fire. Their example bolstered the spirits of the soldiers who shared the same tough experience. By the war's end, 215 brave nurses had died for their country.
Army nurses once again 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 drive toward the Yalu River; and the retreat to the 38th parallel. Throughout the Korean War, 540 Army nurses served on the embattled peninsula.
Mobility and increased patient acuity characterized service in Vietnam. Evacuation by helicopter brought wounded to medical units located within minutes flying time of the battlefield. The U 1-1 H helicopter ambulance, nicknamed the "Dustoff', not only transported patients from battle locations50% faster than in Korea, but also provided triage and resuscitative services for casualties. Trauma care specialization, as well as shock/trauma units, developed from this experience. The "chain of evacuation" from Vietnam was extraordinary. A soldier could be wounded on the battlefield one day and two days later be in an Army hospital in the continental United States. Of the nearly 5,000 Army nurses who served in forty-four hospitals, eight women made the ultimate sacrificed for their nation during the Vietnam conflict.
During Operation Desert Storm, about 2,200 nurses served in forty-four hospitals. Two of every three nurses in the Arabian Gulf were from the Army National Guard or Army Reserves. This was the first major conflict that DEPMENDS, Deployable Medical Systems, was used. Another unique feature was that Army hospital staff coexisted with host nation personnel in fixed facilities forming joint national professional organizations. Before, during and after the 1000 hour ground war, U.S. forces sustained a disease and non-battle injury rate that was the lowest every recorded in a conflict.
Recent years have seen Army nurses active throughout the world both in armed conflicts and humanitarian efforts. In 1983, they supported combat troops in Grenada; in 1989 in Panama; and in 1991 in the Middle East. Since December 1995, Army nurses have been deployed with medical units in support of NATO alliance troops in Haiti, Bosnia, Herzegovina and Kosovo. Nurses have continued to serve proudly during relief efforts following natural disasters such as Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and serve throughout the world in support of the Global War on Terrorism. The legacy of these military nurses lives on today.
Source: Army Nurse Corps Historical Collection Documents