By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

Yesterday, our nation celebrated Memorial Day with barbecues, fireworks, friends and family. We’re able to enjoy a beautiful day with the ones we care for thanks to the men and women who gave their lives during active military service. When we think about courageous individuals who gave the last full measure, we often only consider soldiers. The nurses and doctors who travel with soldiers, giving aid along the front lines are often overlooked and deserve our consideration. Today, I’m continuing my series about nurses who served during times of war. This week, I’m writing about the thousands of army and navy nurses who saved lives during World War II.

Before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Army Nurse Corps had fewer than 1,000 nurses. By the end of WWII, more than 59,000 nurses had served under the Army Nurse Corps. Fourteen thousand nurses served in the Navy Nurse Corps at home and abroad. Women – the only gender allowed to nurse during WWII – volunteered to nurse throughout the war but shortages were constant. The government recruited heavily and even passed a nurse draft bill in the House before the war was over. The draft bill stalled in the Senate and then was made unnecessary by German surrender in 1945.

In both the European and Pacific theaters of WWII, nurses served on the front lines. Nurses worked under enemy fire – 16 nurses were killed by hostile fire. In the Philippines, 67 nurses were taken as prisoners of war. Nurses were sent wherever they were needed. They traveled everywhere, often with just half an hour notice. They went without sleep for days and performed marathon surgeries on soldiers in need.

African-American women also served their country as nurses during World War II. They were reluctantly allowed into the Army Nurse Corps. Of the 59,000 women who served during the war, only a little more than 500 African-American nurses were allowed to serve. In the Navy Nurse Corps, only five African-American women were allowed to serve.

Considering the shortages that plagued the war effort, this stonewalling of qualified African-American nurses seems all the more foolish in retrospect. The military worried that African-American women caring for white soldiers was too large a breach of social norms. The African-American women that were able to serve fought to do so. This desire to serve is commendable, especially given the segregation and discrimination faced at home. To learn more about African-American nurses during WWII, please click this link.

The nurses who cared for the wounded and dying never forgot their experiences. Their stories are touching and poignant. My article can’t do them justice, so I’ve included links to stories told in their own words about the men they saved, the ones they lost, and the ones they strove to comfort in a time of great pain.

I hope everyone reading had a fun, relaxing Memorial Day. Remember to take a moment and be grateful for the courageous, caring nurses that have served alongside our soldiers!

WWII Army Nurse to Celebrate 100th Birthday

They Called Them Angels: American Military Nurses of World War II

American Experience: Nurse’s Tales