nurse Lt. Georgie Taylor wrestled down Captain McCurdy’s arms while Sgt.
Enrique Ramirez forced him back into the seat. Apparently the captain was a
poor candidate for air evacuation.
|At the Army Air Force School of Air Evacuation at Bowman Field, Ky., |
student flight nurses learned how to handle patients with the aid of a
mock-up fuselage of a Douglas C-47 transport. (U.S. Air Force photo)
“What are you waiting for, men?”
McCurdy called out. “Jump!”
Sergeant Ramirez planted his knee
on the man’s lap and gripped both of the captain’s wrists in his big hands,
locking him in place. “I got him.”
“I’ll get the med.” Georgie dashed down
the aisle, past all the patients craning their heads to get a good look. She
flung open the lid of the medication chest. A roll of gauze bandages to use for
restraints, scissors, a bottle of phenobarbital.
(On Distant Shores, p. 249)
In my novel On Distant Shores, the heroine serves as
a flight nurse. To celebrate the book’s release, I’m running a series on medical
air evacuation in World War II.
discussed general principles of air evacuation and we followed one patient’sflight experience, and today we’ll meet the flight nurse.
|Lt. Aleda Lutz of 802nd Medical Air Evacuation Transport |
Squadron in C-47 in North Africa. Lt. Lutz would be killed
in a plane crash in France Nov. 1, 1944,
one of 16 flight nurses killed in service
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 flight nurses graduated in February 1943.
The program was
named the School of Air Evacuation in June 1943 and moved from Bowman Field to
Randolph Field, Texas in October 1944. The US Navy started a flight nursing
program in December 1944 in Alameda, California.
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.
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).
|USAAF flight nurse uniform|
The typical Army
Nurse Corps uniform of white dress or a skirted suit uniform did not work in
flight. Although some resisted—including in ANC leadership—the women were
allowed to wear trousers. The first few squadrons improvised uniforms, often
cutting down the dark blue ANC service jacket and purchasing trousers.
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
insignia of the flight nurse was a pair of golden wings with a maroon N superimposed. These wings were changed
to silver later in the war.
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. One flight nurse even performed an emergency
tracheotomy using improvised equipment.
|Lt. Ruth Gardiner, 805th MAETS|
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.
One flight nurse
was taken prisoner briefly by the Germans after crashing behind enemy lines,
and another parachuted to safety in the mountains of China. In one dramatic
incident, a plane carrying a dozen nurses from Sicily to Italy was blown off
course and crash landed in Nazi-occupied Albania. With the help of Albanian partisans and Allied operatives, the crew and nurses all evaded
capture and crossed snowy mountains to be rescued at the coast—a two-month
ordeal. Cate Lineberry's recent book, The Secret Rescue (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013) gives an excellent account of the Albanian incident.
nurses lost their lives during the war. Lt. Ruth Gardiner, 805th
MAETS (pictured), was the first flight nurse killed, in a plane crash in
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
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. http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=15457
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. http://www.legendsofflightnurses.org/ Contains photos,
news clippings, and PDF of The Story of
Labels: air evacuation, flight nurses, World War II