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Today in World War II History—Nov. 19, 1943

F6F Hellcat (foreground) and SBD Dauntless aircraft on deck of carrier USS Essex, 20 March 1943 (US Navy photo)

F6F Hellcat (foreground) and SBD Dauntless aircraft on deck of carrier USS Essex, 20 March 1943 (US Navy photo)

75 Years Ago—Nov. 19, 1943: Nazis liquidate Janowska concentration camp in Lvov, prisoners make mass escape attempt, a few succeed.

Lt. Hamilton McWhorter of carrier USS Essex squadron VF-9 becomes the first F6F Hellcat ace (5 victories) when his fighter downs a Japanese G4M bomber over Tarawa.

Today in World War II History—Nov. 18, 1943

Flying Officer J.B. Burnside, Lancaster flight engineer of No.619 Squadron RAF checks settings on the control panel (Imperial War Museum: CH 12289)

Flying Officer J.B. Burnside, Lancaster flight engineer of No.619 Squadron RAF checks settings on the control panel (Imperial War Museum: CH 12289)

75 Years Ago—Nov. 18, 1943: RAF begins Battle of Berlin, as 440 Lancasters and 4 Mosquitos bomb German capital.

Chinese retake Changde, China from the Japanese, but will soon be besieged.

Today in World War II History—Nov. 17, 1943

Australian soldiers from the 2/48th Battalion around Sattelberg, New Guinea, 17 November 1943 (Australian War Memorial #060601)

Australian soldiers from the 2/48th Battalion around Sattelberg, New Guinea, 17 November 1943 (Australian War Memorial #060601)

75 Years Ago—Nov. 17, 1943: Australians launch assault on Sattelberg, New Guinea.

First US Fifteenth Air Force heavy bomber group transfers to Italy from North Africa.

Patch of the US Fifteenth Air Force, WWII

Patch of the US Fifteenth Air Force, WWII

Today in World War II History—Nov. 16, 1943

Vemork hydroelectric plant after US air raid, Telemark, Norway, 16 Nov 1943 (Source: Norsk Hydro ASA)

Vemork hydroelectric plant after US air raid, Telemark, Norway, 16 Nov 1943 (Source: Norsk Hydro ASA)

75 Years Ago—Nov. 16, 1943: Southeast Asia Command (SEAC) is established with Allied forces under Adm. Lord Louis Mountbatten in Delhi, India.

US Eighth Air Force bombs Rjukan and Knaben in Nazi-occupied Norway, including heavy water facilities critical for German atomic bomb development.

Southeast Asia Command insignia

Southeast Asia Command insignia

Today in World War II History—Nov. 15, 1943

Soldiers of US Fifth Army battle mud in Italy, fall 1943 (US Army Center of Military History)

Soldiers of US Fifth Army battle mud in Italy, fall 1943 (US Army Center of Military History)

75 Years Ago—Nov. 15, 1943: Allied Expeditionary Air Force (AEAF) is established under Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory for Operation Overlord (D-day).

German Adm. Karl Dönitz abandons U-boat campaign in western Atlantic.

Britain resumes Arctic convoys to Soviet Union.

Gen. Mark Clark orders two-week halt to US offensive in Italy to allow for rest and reinforcement.

Today in World War II History—Nov. 14, 1943

Battleship USS Iowa, Long Beach, CA, February 2018 (Photo: Sarah Sundin)

Battleship USS Iowa, Long Beach, CA, February 2018 (Photo: Sarah Sundin)

75 Years Ago—Nov. 14, 1943: Battleship USS Iowa, carrying President Roosevelt to Africa, is almost hit by an accidentally fired torpedo from destroyer USS William D. Porter.

Leonard Bernstein debuts as conductor of New York Philharmonic when Bruno Walter is sick.

Medical Air Evacuation in World War II – The Flight Nurse

Medical Air Evacuation in World War II, part 3: The Flight Nurse - training, uniforms, duties, and dangers.

Medical Air Evacuation in World War II, part 3: The Flight Nurse – training, uniforms, duties, and dangers.

For Lt. Kay Jobson, flight nursing meant more than physical care. It meant reconnecting a broken soldier with the shards of his humanity.

Kay assessed her planeload of patients en route from Italy to Tunisia. A restless lot, downhearted. That wouldn’t do.

She headed to the front of the C-47 cargo plane. The soldiers had been wounded on the battered beachhead at Anzio or in one of the many bloody failed attempts to take Cassino. “Say, fellows, what do you think about the ’44 baseball season? Do you think the Cardinals can come back from their World Series loss?”

In Perfect Time, p. 7 (Wings of the Nightingale #3)

Before World War II, medical air evacuation was little but theory—by the end of the war, it was recognized as vital to patient care. I enjoyed following the development of air evacuation in my Wings of the Nightingale series, which featured three flight nurses based in the Mediterranean.

This blog series has discussed:.

General principles of air evacuation

The patient’s flight experience

The flight nurse

Training

The profession of flight nursing began in World War II. The US Army Air Force started the first training program at Bowman Field in Louisville, Kentucky in the fall of 1942. Training was haphazard at this point, and the first two squadrons (the 801st and 802nd) were sent overseas before training was complete. The formal program ran six to nine weeks, changing throughout the war. The first class of 39 flight nurses graduated on February 18, 1943.

The program was named the School of Air Evacuation on June 25, 1943 and moved from Bowman Field to Randolph Field, Texas on October 15, 1944.

At the Army Air Force School of Air Evacuation at Bowman Field, KY, student flight nurses learn how to handle patients with the aid of a mock-up fuselage of a Douglas C-47 transport. (US Air Force photo)

At the Army Air Force School of Air Evacuation at Bowman Field, KY, student flight nurses learn how to handle patients with the aid of a mock-up fuselage of a Douglas C-47 transport. (US Air Force photo)

The US Navy’s School of Air Evacuation Casualties opened December 10, 1944 at the Naval Air Station in Alameda, CA. The first class of 24 nurses and 24 pharmacist’s mates graduated January 22, 1945. On March 6, 1945, Ens. Jane Kendeigh became the first Navy flight nurse to fly directly into a battlefield when her plane landed on Iwo Jima and came under artillery fire. A month later, she also became the first flight nurse to land on Okinawa.

Flight nurse Ens. Jane Kendeigh, US Navy, caring for wounded Marine William J Wycoff on Iwo Jima, March 3, 1945 (US Navy photo)

Flight nurse Ens. Jane Kendeigh, US Navy, caring for wounded Marine William J Wycoff on Iwo Jima, March 3, 1945 (US Navy photo)

In training, the nurses studied academic subjects such as aeromedical physiology. They also learned field survival, map-reading, camouflage, ditching and crash procedures, and the use of the parachute. The program included calisthenics, physical conditioning, and a bivouac in the field with simulated enemy attack.

Organization

In the US Army Air Force, each Medical Air Evacuation Transport Squadron (MAETS) was headed by a flight surgeon and chief nurse. The MAETS was divided into four flights, each led by a flight surgeon and composed of six teams of flight nurses and surgical technicians. A Headquarters section included clerks, cooks, and drivers. On July 19, 1944 the squadrons were re-designated Medical Air Evacuation Squadrons (MAES).

Crew of a medical air evacuation flight: pilot Lt. James M. Hayes Jr.; flight nurse Lt. Katye Swope (802nd Medical Air Evacuation Transport Squadron); co-pilot Lt. C.M. Worley; crew chief T/Sgt. M.C. Jacobsen; radio operator T/Sgt. Leo Mortell (US Army Air Force photo)

Crew of a medical air evacuation flight: pilot Lt. James M. Hayes Jr.; flight nurse Lt. Katye Swope (802nd Medical Air Evacuation Transport Squadron); co-pilot Lt. C.M. Worley; crew chief T/Sgt. M.C. Jacobsen; radio operator T/Sgt. Leo Mortell (US Army Air Force photo)

Uniforms

The typical Army Nurse Corps uniform of white dress or a skirted suit uniform did not work in flight (Read more: Army Nursing in World War II – Uniforms). Although some resisted—including in ANC leadership—the women were allowed to wear trousers. The first few squadrons improvised uniforms, cutting down the dark blue ANC service jacket to waist-length and purchasing trousers.

US Army flight nurses in 1943, displaying the various types of Army Nurse Corps uniforms—Lt. Wilma Vinsant, regulation blue winter uniform, Lt. Edith M. Roe; Lt. Ethel Guffey; Lt. Jane Orme in winter flying suit, Lt. Adela Besse in gray flying suit with slacks (US National Archives)

US Army flight nurses in 1943, displaying the various types of Army Nurse Corps uniforms—Lt. Wilma Vinsant, regulation blue winter uniform, Lt. Edith M. Roe; Lt. Ethel Guffey; Lt. Jane Orme in winter flying suit, Lt. Adela Besse in gray flying suit with slacks (US National Archives)

Eventually an official flight nurse uniform was authorized—a waist-length gray-blue jacket and matching trousers and skirt, with a light blue or white blouse. In 1944, the uniform was changed to olive drab, with a khaki blouse. Depending on the climate, nurses also wore the combat airman’s heavy flight gear.

Brig. Gen. David N.W. Grant, Air Surgeon of the Army Air Forces, pins wings on Lt. Geraldine Dishroon, honor graduate at Bowman Field, Kentucky, during the school’s first formal flight nurse graduation on Feb. 18, 1943 (US National Archives)

Brig. Gen. David N.W. Grant, Air Surgeon of the Army Air Forces, pins wings on Lt. Geraldine Dishroon, honor graduate at Bowman Field, Kentucky, during the school’s first formal flight nurse graduation on Feb. 18, 1943 (US National Archives)

When the first class graduated on Feb. 18, 1943, no insignia was available. Air Surgeon Gen. David Grant pinned his own wings on the honor graduate and allowed the women to wear flight surgeon’s gold wings with a maroon N soldered on. On December 15, 1943, these wings were officially approved, but were changed to silver on September 12, 1944.

US Army Air Force Flight Nurse Wings, authorized Dec. 15, 1943 (Source: US Air Force)

US Army Air Force Flight Nurse Wings, authorized Dec. 15, 1943 (Source: US Air Force)

Duties

The role of the flight nurse was revolutionary. No physician accompanied her on the flight, and she outranked the male surgical technician, who worked under her authority. She was trained to start IVs and oxygen, tasks reserved for physicians at the time. In addition, she was trained to deal with medical emergencies including shock, hemorrhage, and sedation.

C-46 air evacuation from Manila, Philippine Islands, 1945—flight nurse standing, surgical technician at desk (US Army Air Force photo)

C-46 air evacuation from Manila, Philippine Islands, 1945—flight nurse standing, surgical technician at desk (US Army Air Force photo)

On September 24, 1944, a C-47 made a forced landing on a Bellona Island in the Pacific. Flight nurse Lt. Mary Louise Hawkins performed an emergency tracheotomy on a patient using improvised equipment, including an inflation tube from a “Mae West” life vest. All her patients survived. She received the Distinguished Flying Cross for this.

Flight nurse Lt. Mary Louise Hawkins, WWII (US Air Force photo)

Flight nurse Lt. Mary Louise Hawkins, WWII (US Air Force photo)

Dangers

The primary responsibility for the lives of the patients rested on the shoulders of the flight nurses. Their emergency training was put into use in many cases throughout the war. Flight nurses and technicians successfully evacuated patients into life rafts after a ditching in the Pacific, unloaded patients from a burning plane after crash landing in North Africa, and loaded patients under enemy fire in the jungles of Burma. Flight nurse Lt. Jeannette Gleason even parachuted to safety in the mountains of China.

In one dramatic incident, a plane carrying thirteen nurses of the 807th MAETS from Sicily to Italy was blown off course and crash landed in Nazi-occupied Albania on Nov. 8, 1943. With the help of Albanian partisans and Allied operatives, the crew, nurses, and surgical technicians all evaded capture and crossed snowy mountains to be rescued at the coast—a two-month ordeal.

Flight nurses of the 807th MAETS show their worn-out shoes after their two-month trek through Albania, 9 January 1944 (US Air Force photo)

Flight nurses of the 807th MAETS show their worn-out shoes after their two-month trek through Albania, 9 January 1944 (US Air Force photo)

Flight nurse Lt. Reba Whittle (813rd MAES) was taken prisoner by the Germans after crashing behind enemy lines on September 27, 1944 and was returned to the US in February 1945. She received the Purple Heart and the Air Medal.

Sixteen flight nurses lost their lives during the war. Lt. Ruth Gardiner, 805th MAETS, was the first flight nurse killed, in a plane crash in Alaska on July 27, 1943.

Flight nurse 2nd Lt. Ruth Gardiner (US Air Force photo)

Flight nurse 2nd Lt. Ruth Gardiner (US Air Force photo)

Through professionalism and courage, the women who served as flight nurses in World War II saved many hundreds of lives and comforted over a million sick and wounded servicemen.

Resources:

Sarnecky, Mary T. A History of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia. 1999.

Links, Mae Mills & Coleman, Hubert A. Medical Support of the Army Air Forces in World War II. Office of the Surgeon General, USAF. Washington, DC. 1955.

“Winged Angels: USAAF Flight Nurses in World War II.” On National Museum of the US Air Force website.

The World War II Flight Nurses Association. The Story of Air Evacuation: 1942-1989. Taylor Publishing Co., Dallas TX, 1989.

Website of the World War II Flight Nurse Association. Contains photos, news clippings, and PDF of The Story of Air Evacuation.

Lineberry, Cate. The Secret Rescue. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013 (story of the escape from Albania).

Today in World War II History—Nov. 13, 1943

US aircraft carrier deck crewman resting between aircraft landings, off Tarawa, Gilbert Islands, Nov 1943 (US National Archives)

US aircraft carrier deck crewman resting between aircraft landings, off Tarawa, Gilbert Islands, Nov 1943 (US National Archives)

75 Years Ago—Nov. 13, 1943: US Seventh Air Force and US Navy Task Force 57 carrier aircraft begin pre-invasion bombing of Tarawa, Makin, and Betio in Gilbert Islands.

French Resistance attacks ball-bearing plant at Annecy.

A Poppy in Remembrance by Michelle Ule

A Poppy in Remembrance by Michelle UleIn London in 1914, American Claire Meacham has a front row seat on the excitement as the Great War breaks out. This could be her opportunity to follow in her journalist father’s footsteps – but women aren’t welcome at the Boston News Service office except as stenographers. In the newsroom, she makes friends with dashing New Zealander Nigel Bentley-Smith and quiet American Jim Hodges. Jim invites Claire to lectures at the Bible Training College, where she’s struck by the teachings of Oswald Chambers.

As the war heats up, Claire journeys with her family to Egypt and to France to report on the war. Will the war take everyone she loves? And can Claire prove herself as a journalist?

Sweeping from London to Cairo to Paris, A Poppy in Remembrance by Michelle Ule traces the poppy-strewn path of the First World War. Through the eyes of a plucky young woman trying to make a name for herself in journalism, we see the devastation of the war on a grand and on a personal level. The faith, courage, and optimism of Oswald Chambers (author of the classic devotional My Utmost for His Highest) and his wife, Biddy, have a great influence on Claire – and on the reader. A sweet and touching romance adds to the appeal of this beautifully written novel. Highly recommended!

Today in World War II History—Nov. 12, 1943

Australian poster, WWII

Australian poster, WWII

75 Years Ago—Nov. 12, 1943: Japanese bomb Parap, Adelaide River, and Batchelor Airfield in final air raid on Australia.

French proclaim martial law in Lebanon after Lebanese unilaterally amend constitution to end French mandate (on Nov. 8).

After previous day’s Allied air raid, Japanese remove carriers from Rabaul, essentially neutralizing their major air and sea base in the Solomon Islands.