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The Women Who Also Gave Their Lives

Source: Cate Lineberry of Fox News

“It’s memorial day and we honor those who paid the ultimate price to ensure our life, liberty and freedom.  This blog is dedicated to the horse but the biggest readership, most advocates and those who keep my male Texas mind in line are women.  It is the compassionate hearts of women who fight against slaughter and for the freedom of our native wild mustangs and burros.  So today, we highlight the women who have given their all, often with little or no recognition, to fight on our behalf.  We honor both the women and men of our armed services this today…Thank you!” ~ R.T.

Now that the Pentagon has lifted the ban on women serving in combat, the number of women dying for this country will no doubt continue to rise in the coming years.
Second Lt. Ruth M. Gardiner died in an aircraft crash en route to evacuating patients in Alaska in July 1943, making her the first Army Air Forces flight nurse killed in a combat theater. She was one of 17 flight nurses who died during World War II and one of more than 500 military women who lost their lives. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Second Lt. Ruth M. Gardiner died in an aircraft crash en route to evacuating patients in Alaska in July 1943, making her the first Army Air Forces flight nurse killed in a combat theater. She was one of 17 flight nurses who died during World War II and one of more than 500 military women who lost their lives. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Every Memorial Day since I was a child, I’ve thought of my 22-year-old cousin who was killed while bravely serving in Vietnam in May 1969.

I’ve also reflected on the many other courageous men who gave their lives for our country and the more than 150 women who have been killed since 9/11.

Until I started researching my book “The Secret Rescue: An Untold Story of American Nurses and Medics Behind Nazi Lines,” however, I never knew just how many women had died in the line of duty since they were first allowed to serve with the establishment of the Army Nurse Corps in 1901 and the Navy Nurse Corps in 1908.

Though they were not granted any rank within the military, at least 359 military nurses gave their lives during World War I. The first two female nurses to be killed, Edith Ayres and Helen Wood, died on May 20, 1917, when one of their ship’s guns exploded during a practice drill on its way to France. Most of the other nurses who died during the war contracted influenza while caring for patients during the worldwide epidemic.

Because of the contributions of women during the war, the Army granted nurses relative rank in 1920, which allowed them to wear insignia. Despite the risks these women took to serve, however, their pay remained half that of men of equal rank. The Navy did not award nurses relative rank until 1942.

During World War II, more than 500 military women died in service. While illnesses and aircraft or vehicle accidents took the lives of most, 16 were killed by enemy fire, including 6 who lost their lives during enemy bombing in Anzio, Italy, in February 1944. Another 6 nurses, along with five medical officers, were killed in April 1945 when a Japanese suicide plane attacked the hospital ship Comfort while it transported wounded to Okinawa.

Though these women courageously died for their country, it wasn’t until June 1944 that the Army granted nurses temporary commissions, which included full pay and benefits for those serving in grades second lieutenant through major. In 1947 the Army-Navy Nurse Act finally provided permanent commissioned officer status to women in these grades.

The deaths of women serving in the military, of course, weren’t limited to the two world wars.

During the Korean War, seventeen military nurses died. Another 8 women died while serving in Vietnam, with one death from enemy fire, and 16 died during Operation Desert Storm.

All of these numbers only include the women who officially served with the military after 1901. Before that, countless women served as unofficial nurses, cooks, laundresses, and spies, and an unknown number gave their lives.

Jemima Warner was one such woman. She was killed by an enemy bullet during the siege of Quebec on Dec. 11, 1775, while working as a cook for her deceased husband’s Pennsylvania battalion.

At least two of the four hundred or so women disguised as men who fought in the Civil War were killed at Pickett’s Charge during the Battle of Gettysburg.

When the country was overwhelmed by the number of sick soldiers during the Spanish-American war, twenty-one of the 1,400 contract nurses hired to care for these men died from diseases.

Though the total number of women who lost their lives in war is quite small compared to the hundreds of thousands of American men who were killed, their sacrifices were no less.

Now that the Pentagon has lifted the ban on women serving in combat, the number of women dying for this country will no doubt continue to rise in the coming years.
This Memorial Day I pay tribute to all of the brave men—and women—who gave their lives for our country, from its earliest days to today.

Cate Lineberry is author of “The Secret Rescue: An Untold Story of American Nurses and Medics Behind Nazi Lines.” She has been a staff writer and Europe editor for National Geographic magazine and Web editor for Smithsonian magazine.

5 replies »

  1. Thank you R.T. for remembering the women in war. In a perfect world, there would be no violence and no war. Humanity would be defined as peaceful, compassionate, and loving. All in life and of life would be respected and revered. In a perfect world.

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  2. My Mom is very proud of her service in WWII and her 103 year old roommate is also proud of her service. They don’t feel neglected in any way. They are humble about their service and love the USA.

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  3. Very interesting R.T.. A few of the stories I heard for the first time. I appreciate you bringing attention to these courageous women who sacrificed their lives for others. Because of their love of country and commitment to others, our men and women continue to give….they have and will always have my utmost respect and admiration.

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  4. Navy nurses were on duty during the initial Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor , Kāneʻohe Bay , the Philippines , Guam , and aboard the Solace ; they were vital in preventing further loss of life and limb. In fact, the nursing profession’s vital role was quickly recognized and it became the only women’s profession that was deemed so essential as to be placed under the War Manpower Commission. Despite shortages of qualified nurses during the war, the navy was able to hold to its standards and enroll nurses of outstanding qualifications and experience. These outstanding nurses received advanced training in surgery, orthopedics, anesthesia, contagion, dietetics, physiotherapy, and psychiatry, the latter helping men understand and manage Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (then know as shell-shock) and battlefield fatigue. But the navy nurses’ duties did not only include the tending to the injured and sick but also to the equally serious task of training Hospital Corpsmen. Many of these young men had never seen the inside of a hospital unless they themselves had been admitted, and as such it was training from the ground up. Once trained, the men were sent to work aboard fighting ships and on invasion beaches, where nurses were not yet officially assigned. Additionally, nurses trained WAVES for the Hospital Corps.

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