World War II Army Flight Nurses – 10 Feb 2018

Personal Reflections on Coping with War
Part 7 When Patients Were in Crisis

For the 25 flight nurses interviewed for Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II, wartime service was beset with potentially difficult circumstances that could exact a toll on even the most hardy of nurses. To cope with these professional and personal challenges, these women drew on many sources of support, tangible and intangible, physical and mental. Social support, one’s physical condition, and abilities and skills fostered in nurses’ training all helped the flight nurses cope behaviorally with the multiple demands of the war. Reasonable expectations, devotion to duty, an optimistic outlook, and faith in one’s God, one’s colleagues, and one’s self all helped them cope emotionally with the war.

Louise Anthony, a flight nurse with the 816 Medical Air Evacuation Squadron (MAES) in England, who made her first trip into Normandy on 15 June 1944 after D Day, flew over, as did other medical crews, in planes loaded with gasoline for Patton’s army. As the patients were brought on board the plane now configured for air evacuation, enemy shells were getting close, and an officer told the crew to shut the door and take off. Anthony saw that one of her patients was dying and, realizing that he might not survive the flight, tried to find someone to remove him from the plane. But it was too late – the ground crews had left. As soon as they were airborne, Anthony asked the radio operator to call for a doctor to meet the plane. When the patient died over the English Channel, Anthony successfully hid the fact from the other patients: “I did not cover his face, I turned his head, I adjusted his pillow, I checked his pulse, I pulled the blanket back to check his dressings – the same as all the rest of the patients. … And so no one knew anything.”

Toward the end of the war Dorothy White, assigned to the 807 MAES in the Mediterranean, transported a German POW with a sucking chest wound. Because of the extent of the wound, his breaths gasped out his back. He was “a horrible shade of gray” and needed oxygen, but the plane was not equipped for its use. White discovered that the crew chief had a tank of oxygen and a funnel, and, using a rectal tube as the connection, she held the apparatus to the patient’s face for three hours to give him some relief. The crew meanwhile radioed ahead for a physician to meet the plane at the airfield. When the British doctor came on board and saw White’s “fancy gadget,” he said, “I don’t believe it – American ingenuity!” The patient survived the flight thanks to White’s ability to improvise.


Dorothy White [USAF Photo]

Jo Nabors of the 812 MAES volunteered to be the first flight nurse from her squadron to fly into Okinawa, never thinking that hers would be the first of eight names selected from a hat. The fourth day after the bombing had begun, she flew into the island to pick up a load of patients and was petrified, because she could see the devastation from the bombing and hear the firing. When the plane landed and the soldiers saw Nabors, they ran up and crowded around her, asking what she was doing there. “Don’t get out of the airplane, you’ll get shot,” they warned her. Nabors said to the flight surgeon on board, “My God! Get me out of here, because I don’t think it’s safe here. Even by our boys!” He replied, “You have a gun, don’t you? Just use it!” Twenty-four minutes later the patients were loaded and the flight was on its way. The plane was full with newly wounded patients en route to Guam, many of them double amputees. One patient was blind, and Nabors worried about him the most. Only eighteen years old, he had lied about his age. He did not want to go home, because he was afraid of what his family would say – he had no will to live. “They say nurses are hard,” Nabors commented, “but we aren’t hard. I cried and cried with that boy.” Nabors sensed that he was near death because of his despondency, and indeed he did die, not on her flight, but on his flight out of Guam.

Honolulu newspaper clipping [USAF Photo]

Helena Ilic, assigned to the 801 MAES in the Pacific, summed up the flight nurses’ bond with their patients:

Well, I think that you owe your patients everything that you possibly can give them. You know, everything. Your knowledge. I think it is absolutely imperative to think of your patients’ comfort, safety, before you think of your own. … And I think that you owe your patients not knowledge just in treating them, but, like, feeding them – in every aspect. … I think resourcefulness is the word. That’s what you owe your patients, and not just the minimum care. And I think you owe your patients hope, and you owe your patients, I suppose, hope and cheerfulness. That’s very, very important.

 Flight nurse and enlisted technician tend to litter patients
on an air evacuation mission [Author’s Private Collection]





World War II Army Flight Nurses – 20 Jan 2018

Personal Reflections on Coping with War
Part 6 When Grooming Was Important

For the 25 flight nurses interviewed for Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II, wartime service was beset with potentially difficult circumstances that could exact a toll on even the most hardy of nurses. To cope with these professional and personal challenges, these women drew on many sources of support, tangible and intangible, physical and mental. Social support, one’s physical condition, and abilities and skills fostered in nurses’ training all helped the flight nurses cope behaviorally with the multiple demands of the war. Reasonable expectations, devotion to duty, an optimistic outlook, and faith in one’s God, one’s colleagues, and one’s self all helped them cope emotionally with the war.

Once they began their actual air evacuation duties, the flight nurses entered a topsy-turvy world. An obvious manifestation of their circumstances of work was seen in their uniforms. Helena Ilic of the 801 Medical Air Evacuation Squadron (MAES) in the Pacific recalled that they didn’t have a set uniform – it was catch-as-catch-can. The flight nurses often were issued men’s uniform items to wear and had to modify them as necessary to make them fit. Clara Morrey, stationed with the 802 MAES in North Africa, recalled that her squadron was sent overseas before the flight nurse uniforms were finished, so the nurses were told to take two pairs of navy blue slacks and blue regulation shirts with them. Their first three shipments of uniforms were sunk. “We didn’t get our uniforms until about nine months after we were there, and so you should have seen our uniforms in that hot African sun,” said Morrey. “They were bleached to a purple. And when we were on trips, we would put them under the mattress to press them out. Oh, they were terrible!”

Helena Ilic in Emerau, 1944
[Author’s Private Collection]

For chief nurse Grace Dunnam in England with the 806 MAES the most difficult thing about being a flight nurse was trying to keep her flight nurses properly dressed in their uniforms. For example, they were not supposed to mix items from two different types of uniforms. She chose to overlook some minor transgressions such as the wearing of red nail polish, which she felt was good for morale. But if a uniform infraction was reported to her, she felt obligated to talk with the flight nurse about it. What was not brought to her attention, however, Dunnam was willing to ignore.

806 MAES Chief Nurse Grace Dunnam (2nd from left)
[USAF Photo]

A neat, well-groomed appearance was expected of every flight nurse during the war. While most nurses experienced some inconvenience in keeping up their appearance, Jocie French, a flight nurse with the 818 MAES in England, admitted concerns about having to wear the same uniform all the time and about having trouble getting hose, makeup, and permanents for her hair. Concerns such as these may appear trifling, but the flight nurses realized that their appearance had a definite effect on the morale of the men fighting the war. For this reason, Elizabeth Pukas, chief nurse of the 812 MAES in the Pacific, attached extreme importance to grooming:

I expect my nurses to be as if they just came out of Elizabeth Arden’s salon, with her hairdo, with her makeup, with her uniform absolutely immaculate. … She is to be immaculately clean, and as beautiful and as presentable as she has been trained in flight nursing school to be.

The flight nurse was, according to Pukas, ‘”to be the most beautiful woman that the wounded are going to rest their eyes on.”

Jo Nabors, one of Pukas’s flight nurses, explained her chief nurse’s grooming requirement:

Yes, we had to look nice. We had to be dressed nice, our hair always had to be done right. And before we came in, we had to go and put lipstick on, you know, before you picked up a flight of patients. We had to be all groomed. We had to smile. We had to smell nice. You know, that’s true. We did. And we were there for a morale booster, also, because I think they liked to see some American girls. After all, they’d been on the islands for so long that they didn’t know what we all looked like. And I think they were happy to see flight nurses all prettied up with permanents and their hair done and their eyelashes taken care of. I think that was one of the prime requisites, I think, to be a flight nurse. They didn’t expect us to be beautiful, I don’t think so. But we had to know how to wear our hair and wear our makeup and be neat.

A sense of humor helped, as Lee Holtz assigned to the 801 MAES explained:

You know, we laughed about many things that happened. Like … you’d get in [from a flight] and … it was too late to take a shower, and you sort of splashed a little water on your face from your helmet, which you always had with you. Or once I came back from a flight, and the tent or something had leaked, and all my clothes were wet, and I didn’t even have anything dry to put on. But we hung them all out, and, you know, we just laughed about it. You couldn’t get upset about anything, you just couldn’t. You couldn’t survive that kind of life.

The patients were worth the extra effort that these women put into their appearance during the war. Ilic summed it up: “I think that you owe your patients everything that you possibly can give them. … I mean, you owe your patients your best.” Clearly, that included good grooming.

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 1 Jan 2018

Personal Reflections on Coping with War
Part 5 When Health and Hygiene Were a Concern

For the 25 flight nurses interviewed for Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II, wartime service was beset with potentially difficult circumstances that could exact a toll on even the most hardy of nurses. To cope with these professional and personal challenges, these women drew on many sources of support, tangible and intangible, physical and mental. Social support, one’s physical condition, and abilities and skills fostered in nurses’ training all helped the flight nurses cope behaviorally with the multiple demands of the war. Reasonable expectations, devotion to duty, an optimistic outlook, and faith in one’s God, one’s colleagues, and one’s self all helped them cope emotionally with the war.

The often primitive conditions in which flight nurses lived and worked, as well as the demands of air evacuation duty, required a great deal of physical stamina.

Physical fitness was a positive outcome of the flight nurse training. Lee Holtz, a flight nurse with the 801 Medical Air Evacuation Squadron (MAES) in the Pacific recalled that physical training had been rugged, but it paid off when her squadron got to the jungle, where they needed to be in top physical shape. Denny Nagle, assigned to England with the 815 MAES, also found the physical training “really rough, but I never felt better in my life [than] when we finished … all that exercise.”

Flight Nurses on Parade, Bowman Field, KY [USAF Photo]

Keeping busy was important to surviving the rigors of wartime service. When on transatlantic flights, Jenny Boyle, assigned with the 816 MAES in England, was surprised “how much time you can spend without doing anything spectacular, just by being there and helping out and talking with the patients, but you stayed busy for the whole time.” Elizabeth Pukas, chief nurse of the 812 MAES in the Pacific, recalled the simple joys of well-earned crew rest the first 24 hours after landing, making her report, off-loading the medical equipment, and returning to her home base.

Mental exhaustion – which flight nurse Hilda Halverson, assigned to the 826 MAES and later the 830 MAES in the Pacific, described as always being alert thinking “what you can do for the next person” – was not as easily remedied, though overall good health helped.

Matters of hygiene, including health concerns, were the most frequently discussed demands of the flight nurses’ living conditions. While most flight nurses maintained their health during their air evacuation assignments, many of the nurses were plagued by minor ailments such as diarrhea, constipation, bladder infections, and skin fungus. The flight nurses continued to work despite their discomfort, often to the point of exhaustion.

Irregular hours accounted for much of the indisposition. Flights could be as short as a 40-minute English Channel crossing or up to 20 hours long on a transoceanic mission. Food was nonexistent or unpalatable, served from a back burner of a stove in the mess hall, by a Red Cross worker, or in a container of C-rations or K-rations. While most flight nurses learned to sleep while deadheading on a flight with no patients, these naps did not compensate for a full night’s sleep on the ground. Crew rest varied in length depending on plane schedules and the number of patients needing evacuation by air.

Exhaustion was the inevitable result of the hectic pace of flight nursing during the war. Halverson remembered that Japanese aircraft raids constantly interrupted her sleep. “Oh, they were tiresome. And the minute you got back [from the bomb shelter], it seemed like you’d get back to sleep, then they’d come again. And you’d think, Oh, who cares?”

Class 43H resting before start of 13-mile hike during bivouac
Bowman Field, KY, January 1944 [Author’s Private Collection]

Two of the nurses I interviewed returned to the United States as patients because of health problems; both were assigned in England. Ethel Carlson of the 815 MAES had a kidney flare-up; Louise Anthony of the 816 MAES could no longer tolerate a back injury she sustained during the flight nurse course when she had to lift a litter with two 60-pound sandbags on it. She hid the fact of the injury as long as she could, because she realized it would disqualify her as a flight nurse.

For some women the most difficult aspect of flight nursing was the lack of bathrooms on the aircraft in which they flew. Some planes had chemical toilets, but some nurses would not use them. As Adele Edmonds assigned to the 801 MAES in the Pacific related, “They [chemical toilets] weren’t enclosed in a cabinet type. It was really just open. … Men have a different feeling about things like that. But if you were a woman aboard a plane with all men, you would naturally be a little reluctant to go to the bathroom practically on display.” Dorothy White with the 807 MAES in the Mediterranean, shed additional light on the problem:

Most airplanes did not have any toilet facilities. If you were lucky, and you had a long flight, there might be a pail in the back that we had to use. It is possible for a nurse with slacks on to aim at the pilot’s relief tube, but, believe me, it’s very difficult, and you have to hope that the plane is going to fly steady while you’re there!

White remembered another bathroom arrangement, on the ground. When no facilities were available for women when the plane landed in Naples, a medical officer “would come up to the airplane, and across his jeep was a sign, ‘To the bushes.’ And we would all get on the jeep and go off to the bushes.” The flight nurses carried their own toilet paper with them.

In Rome the flight nurses had an outhouse, which they painted blue and named “the blue room.” But, as White recalled, some of the soldiers on one field felt sorry for them.

And we got over there one day, and they said, “We’ve got a surprise for you!” So we went, and they had made us a beautiful six-holer. Someone had made us the fanciest toilet-paper holder you have ever seen. They had a stone walkway around so that the entrance was [in] back out of the way, and they even had some flowers planted around. I mean, it was the most up-to-date facility in the whole theater.

But even a new bathroom facility could not guarantee good health. White remembered a time when the flight nurses and other troops in her area had what they called “the golden glitters” because of the jaundice – some type of hepatitis. She didn’t turn gold, and she discovered that she could keep going by living on black coffee. “I worked all during the time – everybody else was in bed. You didn’t feel good, but you were better than those that were in bed, and somebody had to work. And so you survived.”

Frances Sandstrom, who flew with the 816 MAES in England, recalled a mission in which, because of fog, a flight that should have lasted approximately 90 minutes lasted about seven hours. “The worst part of it was that we had no place to go to the little girls’ room. … I can remember that was very uncomfortable, to say the least.”

The flight nurses dealt with the lack of bathroom facilities in different ways. Many nurses simply regulated their food and fluid intake. “We just dehydrated ourselves; it took care of that,” said Sandstrom. White remarked, “If you saw our original uniforms – our [Eisenhower] jackets, … the air evac nurses were always looked on as being very buxom. … [The] pockets were always filled with toilet paper and Kotex.”

Nurses occasionally ran out of sanitary napkins. Some locations lacked post exchanges or towns in which to buy more. Chief nurse Lucy Wilson of the 801 MAES recalled flying on a mercy mission to another island in the Pacific to stock up on Kotex for the nurses in her squadron.

801 MAES Chief Nurse Lucy Wilson
[Author’s Private Collection]

Water for bathing, washing one’s clothes, and washing one’s hair was limited. On flights, a nurse often had only the water that she carried in her canteen. On the ground, water was rationed at some bases. Nurses might have to resort to a quick shower in the men’s community latrine at a prearranged hour; clothes might be washed in the ocean. And washing one’s hair was often dependent on a timely rainfall. For all hygiene needs, the flight nurses’ helmets came in handy. Alice Krieble of the 818 MAES in England said, “It [helmet] was a potty, emesis basin, and wash basin.”

Most of the nurses took the undesirable conditions of wartime living in stride and applied themselves to their flight nurse role. Said Dorothy Vancil, who flew with the 805 MAES in Central Africa, “I didn’t expect to be carried around, you know, [to] have all the comforts of home.” Sally Jones, who was stationed with the 812 MAES in the Pacific, summed up the situation: “How could you have everything plush when there was a war going on? That’s ridiculous!”

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 10 Dec 2017

Personal Reflections on Coping with War
Part 4 When the Holidays Came

For the 25 flight nurses interviewed for Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II, wartime service was beset with potentially difficult circumstances that could exact a toll on even the most hardy of nurses. To cope with these professional and personal challenges, these women drew on many sources of support, tangible and intangible, physical and mental. Social support, one’s physical condition, and abilities and skills fostered in nurses’ training all helped the flight nurses cope behaviorally with the multiple demands of the war. Reasonable expectations, devotion to duty, an optimistic outlook, and faith in one’s God, one’s colleagues, and one’s self all helped them cope emotionally with the war.

The flight nurses displayed a broad range of creativity, most apparent in their uncanny ability to make do admirably with what was on hand or could be scrounged. Lee Holtz, assigned to the 801 Medical Air Evacuation Squadron (MAES) related a humorous incident of making do for Christmas in the Pacific:

So here we were, a bunch of women bemoaning the fact that we wouldn’t get anything for Christmas, so we made each other little Christmas presents. I remember somebody dyed – I don’t know how they dyed – a bra purple for me. That was my present. … But we all made each other something or stole something from them and did something to whatever they had.

Their Christmas tree was very saggy and looked like a weeping willow, but the flight nurses decorated it with whatever they could find, including spoons from the mess hall. But the coup de grace, Holt said, was a package from the Red Cross – a man’s sweater for a female nurse assigned near the equator, about the most useless gift possible.

Christmas packages from home were in transit for months; when they did arrive, boxes of chocolates were reduced to a mound of goo, and cakes had mildew for icing. Holtz explained, “Of course, our folks at home didn’t know how we were living, really. You know, we really couldn’t say much in our letters. We could never say where we were, so they didn’t really know that we were on the equator.”

801 MAES Flight Nurses Helena Ilic (L) and
Eloise Richardson (R), Bougainville, 1943
[Author’s Private Collection]

Hilda Halverson, who flew with the 826 and 830 MAES in the Pacific, shared a similar story. One of her four sisters had sent her a Christmas box, which caught up with Halverson months after the holiday, at Clark Air Base in the Philippines. When she received the box, Halverson said, “Oh, fellows, I’m going to be able to treat you, I got a box.” But when she opened the package, she discovered about an inch of “mildew” covering the cake and cookies that her sister had baked. “And here [she was going to share] – oh, it was so awful! We opened that and cut it all up.”

Adele Edmonds, a flight nurse with the 801 MAES in the Pacific, had a vivid memory of Christmas Eve 1944 in the Philippines. Because of reasons she had forgotten, the crew couldn’t make it back to their home station and wound up sleeping in a Catholic church that also housed patients cared for by nuns. An alert sounded, and the crew had to go under cover. “And you could see them – the bombing and the effect of it, nearby.”

Like many of her flight nurse colleagues, Jocie French of the 818 MAES spent Christmas Day in an unexpected location. For several days the weather had prevented flying from England into France to pick up patients. She continued the story:

And on this one particular day, I think it was the twenty-third of December, two girls went out – myself and another girl that was our turn to go. And we were carrying blood and medical supplies. And just as we got down to the coast … the crew chief or the copilot came back and said, “Get into a parachute.” And he was getting into one. We’d lost an engine. …. I kept thinking, Do I get out of this parachute before we hit the water? Because I knew we had been gone long enough to be over the Channel. Or do I hit the water with the parachute?

That’s when French wished she’d remembered a little more from her parachute training. Fortunately the plane was able to make it to a base on the British side of the Channel, where the crew stayed overnight until the engine was fixed.

The next morning, the crew resumed their mission to France, but the weather again closed in for days; for two nights Adele and her colleagues stayed in an old bombed-out building with blankets for their beds. Once all the troops left for the Battle of the Bulge, the Red Cross sent word that any nurses who were there could come down and stay at the Red Cross. French continued:

So I went down, and that was a happy day. I went down and had a hot bath and slept between sheets that night. And the next morning I got up and took a subway back to Orly Field [near Paris], and that was Christmas Day, I guess. … [We] stood in line in the open. They had dinner prepared in tents. But we had Christmas dinner, and then we left that afternoon, and we did not take patients back. … I got home the day after Christmas, and the weather had cleared up just miraculously, and every one of our girls had gone out, and I was rambling around in that big building all by myself.

For Agnes Jensen, one of 12 flight nurses and 13 medical technicians trying to get back to allied territory when the plane on which they were flying from Sicily to new duty assignments in Italy had to make an emergency landing in enemy occupied Albania, Christmas of 1943 was unforgettable. A British contingent had linked the stranded troops up with a lieutenant, a sergeant, a wireless, and donkeys to facilitate their trek to the coast where they could be returned by ship to Italy. The pilots had found an abandoned German airstrip along the way where allied planes could attempt an air rescue. Jensen picked up the story:

And it was December twenty-second. We began to think we were going to make it out the twentieth, before Christmas. And the Germans and partisans started fighting up and down this valley that we’d gotten into. It was kind of decent terrain, but it was between river and roads. And we didn’t know how far the fighting would spread, so … we backtracked for a couple of days, to get back across the river, across the road, and up in a higher mountain. We could see this town of Gjirokastër, which is one of the larger towns, too, and we’d stayed there one night. But the Germans occupied it the day after Christmas. … And then the weather socked in for 10 days. … So we just sat in this town waiting over Christmas.

The travelers finally made it to the coast, where a boat returned them to Italy, after the New Year. See Beyond the Call of Duty for more about the flight nurses’ time in Albania.

807 MAES Flight Nurses after Return from Albania
[USAF Photo]




World War II Army Flight Nurses – 18 Nov 2017

Personal Reflections on Coping with War
Part 3 When Away from Family

For the 25 flight nurses interviewed for Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II, wartime service was beset with potentially difficult circumstances that could exact a toll on even the most hardy of nurses. To cope with these professional and personal challenges, these women drew on many sources of support, tangible and intangible, physical and mental. Social support, one’s physical condition, and abilities and skills fostered in nurses’ training all helped the flight nurses cope behaviorally with the multiple demands of the war. Reasonable expectations, devotion to duty, an optimistic outlook, and faith in one’s God, one’s colleagues, and one’s self all helped them cope emotionally with the war.

Social support from squadron and family members was a key element in dealing with the demands of war. Almost two-thirds of the flight nurses interviewed mentioned the importance of esprit de corps and camaraderie in helping them through the war. To four flight nurses it was like a family relationship. What Jenny Boyle, stationed in Europe with the 816 Medical Air Evacuation Squadron (MAES), found helpful was that the people she was with were “like a family.” The other flight nurses often were viewed as sisters. To Randy Rast assigned to the Chine-Burma-India (CBI) Theatre with the 803 MAES, the flight nurses in her squadron “seemed more like sisters to me than my own sisters.” Clara Morrey, initially stationed in North Africa with the 802 MAES, turned down a chance to accompany a patient back to the United States, because she might not have been assigned to her own squadron on her return from the temporary duty.

815 MAES “Sisters” Denny Nagle, Betty Taylor,
and Ethel Carlson [Author’s Private Collection]

The esprit de corps extended to other members of one’s squadron and to one’s colleagues in flight. Flight nurses praised the work of the medical technicians and emphasized the importance of teamwork in providing patient care. “The rapport between the corpsmen and our flight nurses was magnificent,” said chief nurse Elizabeth Pukas, whose 812 MAES was stationed in Hawaii. “Oh, it’s a team – it was definitely a team,” she added.

The flight crew earned the flight nurses’ respect as part of the air evacuation team. Said Helena Ilic, assigned with the 801 MAES in the Pacific, “The crew chief was invaluable to us. … He helped all of us. It was great.” “Crew chiefs … played a big role in patient care,” remarked Adele Edmonds, also assigned to the 801 MAES, who once was saved from the neck grip of a psychiatric patient by the timely entrance of the crew chief into the cabin of the plane. Frances Sandstrom of the 816 MAES recalled the role of the pilots in Europe: “They were so proud to be doing what they were doing. … were so tickled to be able to do this, that they were so glad to help.”

Good leadership contributed to esprit de corps and fostered teamwork. Rast spoke of an exceptional commanding officer who saw to unit morale. Grace Dunnam, chief nurse of the 806 MAES in Europe, spoke of physicians and commanders who were “right in there with you.” A flight nurse in the Pacific stated, “I think our chief nurse was good for us. She didn’t nag, she didn’t pump, she joined us with our laughter, she joined us with our fun, she didn’t pick. I think that she had something to do with our being content.” Louise Anthony, who flew with the 816 MAES, credited her good assignment in the war at least in part to the quality and fair-mindedness of her chief nurse who the flight nurses knew would always “go to bat right away” for her nurses.

Several flight nurses mentioned the support and pride of family members, who could be relied on to send necessities such as casual clothes and underwear and to provide news from home in the form of letters and newspapers. Even the patients whom the flight nurse evacuated by air were a source of support. Dorothy Vancil, who flew with the 805 MAES in Central Africa, noticed how grateful the patients were for “everything you did for them”; for Morrey, “how appreciative these boys were as bad as they were … for every little thing that you did for them” helped her cope with the war.

You never knew a stranger in the war, Rast remarked. Many flight nurses found that the war had its compensation in the people that they met during their military service. Five of the women interviewed met their husbands during the war. Other flight nurses befriended the natives in an overseas location, saw colleagues from their days of nurses’ training, and met up with relatives.

For most of the nurses interviewed, an active social life helped see them through the war. “We worked hard,” remarked Blanche Solomon, who flew with the 822 MAES and later the 830 MAES on the North Atlantic run, “but I think most of us played hard, too, in our free time.” Hosting and attending parties, seeing sights in a foreign country, playing cards in the mess hall, and joining in a songfest – all in the company of friends – provided outlets to help take one’s mind off the war.

Quonset Hut Bar, Clark Air Base, Philippines, 1945
[USAF Photo]


World War II Army Flight Nurses – 28 Oct 2017

Personal Reflections on Coping with War
Part 2 When Living Conditions Were Primitive

For the 25 flight nurses interviewed for Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II, wartime service was beset with potentially difficult circumstances that could exact a toll on even the most hardy of nurses. To cope with these professional and personal challenges, these women drew on many sources of support, tangible and intangible, physical and mental. Social support, one’s physical condition, and abilities and skills fostered in nurses’ training all helped the flight nurses cope behaviorally with the multiple demands of the war. Reasonable expectations, devotion to duty, an optimistic outlook, and faith in one’s God, one’s colleagues, and one’s self all helped them cope emotionally with the war.

Quarters in which the flight nurses lived gave some nurses an exercise in coping. The flight nurses often were billeted together in one large room or several of the nurses shared smaller rooms. Living quarters were often old buildings in poor condition converted to house the nurses. Jocie French, who was assigned with the 811 Medical Air Evacuation Squadron (MAES) in England, recalled living in an old, abandoned, dirty mess hall with vines growing inside through the windows and mice “all over the place.” The nurses had to clean up the building when they moved in.

Furniture was usually minimal, and bathrooms often were located away from the living quarters. On one island in the Pacific, the flight nurses had to call for a guard to escort them from their quarters to the outdoor latrine. Lee Holtz, serving with the 801 MAES in the Pacific, described the situation:

And they were still finding … stray Japanese around there. So when we got to the back door of the Quonset hut to go to the bathroom at night, … you’d call, “Guard!” And he’d come and walk you to the latrine. I bet he loved his duty during the war!

Guadalcanal [Author’s Private Collection]

Ethel Carlson of the 815 MAES in England remembered her first quarters, Boxford House, near Welford, as far from primitive. The flight nurses expected to pitch tents and instead found themselves in a gorgeous mansion with formal gardens on an acre of land. They couldn’t believe it – a great entrance hall, spiral staircase, heads of game on the walls, a marble fireplace. “And this was our own private little barracks,” she concluded.

Boxford House near Welford [Author’s Private Collection]

Alice Krieble, assigned with the 818 MAES in England, remembered that it was not always easy living with so many of her colleagues. She used to go out to a cemetery on the base and just sit and talk to the dead to get away from “a bunch of females.”

Jo Nabors of the 812 MAES recalled the difficulty she had showering on one of the islands in the Pacific:

We had an outdoor shower, and the shower was a large drum, and it had holes in it. … And it was the shower that everybody used. So this one time I was in there taking a shower and went to rinse the water, and I see a face up there. Well … I screamed, and of course everybody came running. It was one of the fellows who hadn’t seen a white woman for so long. So from then on we wore bathing suits in the shower.

Just how livable the quarters were often depended on the flight nurses’ assertiveness and ingenuity. Elizabeth Pukas, chief nurse of the 812 MAES, was upset to learn that the 25 flight nurses in her squadron were to be housed in two three-bedroom houses on a base in Hawaii.

I simply went to our commanding officer – flight surgeon – and said, “This is really asking a little bit much. Please get us another house so that three divided into twenty-four is a little bit more livable.” And then of course I was told, “Well, remember this is very, very temporary. All of you will be out in the Pacific.” I said, “Yes, but there will be a number of us having to stay home in between flights to recuperate, to refurbish, to repack. And this is just a little bit – a lot – of equipment, and our personal property, our clothes are still in the closet, our toiletries are still there. This is our living quarters. And I’m very sure you would not ask a male counterpart to live in such close quarters.” And we did get a little more adequate housing as time went on. … But it did take a little more than just speaking to our squadron. … I did have to go to headquarters to say, “I’m asking if the request has come in and what action is being taken.” I’m not too forward, but I am a chief nurse. … My flight nurses are extremely important to me.

The amenities of home were also important to Pukas. Having obtained the third house eventually, she decorated the houses with paintings on loan from a local art museum and stocked the kitchens with good foods obtained from the nearby navy commissary.

While flight nurses in the North Atlantic, Europe, and Alaska were contending with cold temperatures, flight nurses in the Pacific had more tangible irritations. Mosquitoes galore were dealt with by wearing protective clothing and sleeping under mosquito nets at night, but the larger insects, lizards, and snakes were not so easily endured. Said Adele Edmonds, in the Pacific with the 801 MAES, “But there were so many crawly things! Lizards and snakes. I don’t know how you can prepare yourself for something like that, because I’d always been terrified of them.” Two nurses identified the snakes as the worst thing about being a flight nurse during the war. Holtz remembered:

Oh, we were so frightened of snakes and bugs and stuff! But we lived with them. There wasn’t anything else we could do. … They were tremendous things! And of course I’m a coward about those things anyhow. Those are the things I think that were really hard to take, because we could laugh about everything else, but not that.

Helena Ilic, also in the 801 MAES, recalled that the snakes taught her something about herself: “I’ve always been deathly afraid of snakes. … I couldn’t even look at them before the war. And if I got through that, I said … psychologically I must be a pretty strong person, because if I didn’t go absolutely berserk over those snakes!”

Food was another concern. Flight nurses often had to resort to C-rations and K-rations for sustenance and to such items as found their way to overseas mess halls. Holtz described the culinary situation:

You know, we lived out in the jungle, and we had very poor food. We all complained about the food constantly, because it was mostly stuff shipped from Australia, and the meat – we called it Australian bully beef. It was really canned meat of some sort, but it really was tasteless, so we got to the point we didn’t eat it anymore. And I think once they even sent us canned liver, but I’m not sure of that. But I know most of us survived on peanut butter.

Nurses in the Pacific compensated for the poor food when they managed to get back to the United States or to one of the larger islands on a flight, where they stocked up on fresh food, milk, and pastries. Those flight nurses assigned in the Pacific looked forward to the times that they would be invited to dine with the navy officers aboard a ship. Holtz remembered:

We were invited out lots of times to dinner by the navy, and it didn’t matter who invited you, you always went, because they always had the best food. We’d go with anybody to go eat a meal with the navy. You got to that point. And they would give us things, besides. They would give us canned stuff like Vienna sausages or Spam or something to bring home with us, and that was really great!

Added Nabors, “They would give us all the fresh fruit, vegetables, and meat. … We’d say we’d sell our soul … for an invitation to get over there.”


World War II Army Flight Nurses – 8 Oct 2017

Personal Reflections on Coping with War
Part 1 When the War Started

For the 25 flight nurses interviewed for Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II, wartime service was beset with potentially difficult circumstances that could exact a toll on even the most hardy of nurses. To cope with these professional and personal challenges, these women drew on many sources of support, tangible and intangible, physical and mental. Social support, one’s physical condition, and abilities and skills fostered in nurses’ training all helped the flight nurses cope behaviorally with the multiple demands of the war. Reasonable expectations, devotion to duty, an optimistic outlook, and faith in one’s God, one’s colleagues, and one’s self all helped them cope emotionally with the war.

Work experiences prior to military service varied, with hospital, clinic, private duty, and industrial nursing all represented. Dorothy White – eventually a flight nurse with the 807 Medical Air Evacuation Squadron (MAES) in the Mediterranean – considered this last type of job ideal preparation for flight nursing, because it involved emergency cases and responses when a physician was not in attendance and supplies were limited. About half of the nurses whom I interviewed already knew they wanted to be flight nurses when they entered the military; the others learned about this new field of nursing when at their first duty assignments.

The opportunity to enter the military and serve as a flight nurse was linked closely with patriotism.

“It was very easy to do,” said Louise Anthony, who had worked as a private duty nurse prior to joining the military. “There was no decision to be made. It had already been made. War had been declared. I had two brothers that would be in service. I had lots of cousins and nephews, my half-brother’s children. There was just no question. I was single. I couldn’t have stayed out had I wanted to.” Anthony later served as a flight nurse with the 816 MAES in England.

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941, civilian nurse Elizabeth Pukas still had six months left on her contract with the Army Corps of Engineers in Antigua, where they were building the airfield that became Coolidge Field. As soon as she returned to her former job in New York City, Pukas was recruited by the Red Cross for military service and agreed to join with the stipulation that she be assigned as a flight nurse. But the military was too slow in granting her request, the impatient Pukas thought. “There is a big, big war going on, and it’s going on in the Pacific,” she told her chief nurse. When Pukas entered the army, she had been given a choice of where she would want to go if sent overseas. She answered, “Definitely not Europe, but the Pacific.” Pukas eventually got her wish. She graduated from the flight nurse course on 2 July 1943, was selected as chief nurse of the 812 MAES, and traveled with her squadron to Hickam Field, Hawaii just before Christmas in December 1943.

Helena Ilic and Brooxie Mowery initially had dreams of work as a flight attendant with the airlines when a prerequisite for the work was a nursing diploma. But when America entered the war, and nurses were in such demand both in civilian life and in the military, the airlines stopped hiring nurses and changed their policy to require some college education instead. Ilic already was in the army when she saw a notice on a bulletin board concerning the need for flight nurses. “And, of course, I was all gung-ho, because, you see, before the war, that’s what I wanted to do,” she said. “The reason I went into nursing was I wanted to be a stewardess for Pan American. That’s the reason I went into nursing – to fly. And so the war broke out, of course – here I had a chance. I signed up immediately, and I went to Bowman Field, Kentucky.” Ilic later served with the 801 MAES in the Pacific.

Helena Ilic [Author’s Private Collection]

Mowery had been working in a psychiatric hospital when she decided she’d rather have a job for which she could travel. “So I tried to apply to the airlines, and I’d had two interviews with TWA in Chicago,” she said. “And they said that everything was fine so far, and that I should then await word about going to Kansas City for the final interview where they had their school. And, of course, in those days they only used registered nurses on the airlines.” She continued:

And while I’m waiting for this final interview, December seventh came along. And so I kept waiting and got through the holidays. And in January in the Midwest, you always get the doldrums because of the weather. So I got to thinking about it, and I remembered the letter I’d had from the airlines saying, “We’re awfully sorry. We have to change our program, because the armed forces need registered nurses now.” They wished me all kinds of luck. So I got to thinking, The armed forces need me? Okay. So I went down and started application and so forth.

She hadn’t heard about the possibility of being a flight nurse, Mowery said – “I was just being patriotic.”

World War II was not a passive event for the army nurses who served as flight nurses. The attack on Pearl Harbor and the fear that the United States would be invaded gave Lee Holtz of the 801 MAES in the Pacific and other flight nurses like her their gung-ho attitude about going to war. “That bomb at Pearl Harbor really stimulated everybody,” Clara Morrey of the 802 MAES in North Africa said. “There was patriotism all over the place. No matter what you had to do, you were going to go. … We had an advantage there, because we all said we didn’t care if we got killed, we were going. All those who did volunteer felt that way, and the others stayed at home.”

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 2 Sep 2017

World War II Flight Nurses in Cartoons

The novelty as well as the professionalism of the World War II flight nurse sold the air evacuation program to the general public, helped in great measure by media portrayals of flight nurses in articles often given a catchy title – “These Angels Fly on Man-Made Wings,” “Hell’s Angels,” “Invasion Heroine: The Flying Nurse,” “Angel Footprints.”

In its effort to ameliorate the grimness of war, the media tended to glamorize the work – and the appearance – of flight nurses. In an early cartoon found on the back cover of Yank magazine for 1 September 1942, two male patients in hospital beds watch as a young, pretty, slim nurse, dressed in the conventional white uniform and cap and holding a medication tray, flies over their heads. The caption reads: “Must be one of those new flight nurses that were just transferred here.” 1

  “New flight nurses” cartoon, Yank, 1 September 1942
[Author’s Private Collection]

A cartoon in the July 1944 issue of Air Force magazine, pictures a G.I. combing his hair and straightening his tie while four litter patients watch Flight Nurse Nelson going about her business on an air evacuation flight. The caption reads: “Since the ‘Angels of Mercy’ were put on flying status there has been a marked improvement in the mental attitude of patients being removed from forward combat areas. A sick man’s spirits automatically rise at the touch of a kindly and competent feminine hand. Flight Nurse Nelson is the pin-up as well as patch-up girl of each troop transport she boards these days.” 2

Nurse Nelson cartoon, Airman, July 1944
[Author’s Private Collection]

“I cannot seem to speak of flight nurses without sounding like a blurb for a flock of movie stars,” wrote Maxine Davis in a book about aviation medicine in World War II. “Frankly, I found the Army Air Force flight nurses tops. They were gay, friendly, loved their jobs and performed them efficiently, and they were beautiful. I am convinced the officials of the School of Aviation Medicine measured them, photographed them, and voted on them as for ‘Miss America.’ They were, incidentally, healthy, courageous, and stout of heart.” 3 Helena Ilic was just one of the numerous flight nurses meriting Davis’s accolades. Read more about Helena and her flight nurse colleagues in Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II.

Helena Ilic of 801 MAES in Leyte, Philippines, 1944
[Author’s Private Collection]

The reference to Miss America brought instantly to readers’ minds the image of an attractive female who has risen above her competition as the epitome of all that is good in a young woman. But because beauty did not necessarily equate with courageous action, correspondents tempered their descriptions with behavior indicative of patriotism and fortitude. And if a photograph of the nurse in uniform could be shown, it reinforced the message. Such was the case in “A Heroine Comes Home,” with its subtitle “Boston Army Nurse Typical of The REAL Miss America,” an article about flight nurse Lieutenant Barbara Watts, who served with the 802 Medical Air Evacuation Squadron (MAES) and later with the 807 MAES in North Africa and Europe. Watts was, the correspondent said, “typical of the Miss Americas who served so well in the various theaters of war. Thousands, like Lt. Watts, are turning back to civilian life with records that rival those of the men.” 4

Other publications may not have focused as overtly on the flight nurses’ femininity, but the message was clear in title and in text: the presence of female flight nurses in forward areas and on air evacuation missions had a positive effect on the morale of the troops who might suffer or already had sustained combat wounds or related illnesses. Official military publications also stressed the positive effect that female flight nurses had on their patients’ morale. Because many soldiers were taking their first flight, a young, female nurse calmly going about her duties was a reassuring sight. 5

The public already had read of the glamour associated with nurses working as airline stewardesses. By association, military flight nurses took on that same glamour in the press, but with an important difference – the well-known image of nurses as “angels of mercy” was given a new twist. “These Angels Fly on Man-Made Wings,” read the title of an article in the Sunday supplement to the Louisville Courier-Journal the week after the first flight nurse graduation. The wings, of course, were airplane wings. Wounded soldiers would “be opening their eyes to a sight both pleasant and welcome, but which is just about the last thing they’d expect to see so near no-man’s land” – attractive flight nurses wearing the insignia of second lieutenants. Given the effusive tone of their article, the authors may have thought it necessary to add, “Because being a flight nurse has glamour appeal, entrance into the school is difficult so as to keep out those who would enter purely through the love for adventure.” 6

The closing caveat was apt. Capitalizing on this love of adventure in Women in Aviation, a book written at the end of World War II, Becky Peckham concluded her chapter about flight nurses: “Air Evacuation seemed to be the perfect answer for those girls who ‘didn’t join the Army Nurse Corps to take care of people with measles.’” 7

Under the opening, “They flew into South Pacific combat zones under the noses of Zeros, crouched long, dark hours in foxholes, sweated out blistering beachhead bombardments and came up with the kind of courage that brought smiles to the faces of the sick and wounded,” Collier’s printed a rare article that downplayed femininity and emphasized brawn over beauty in these flight nurse “Amazons.” 8 A photo spread of flight nurses in the Pacific was more balanced in its concise depiction of these women and their work in air evacuation: “They are women with painted fingernails and permanent waves, strictly feminine, but they do a man-sized job.” 9

Flight nurses of the 819 MAES in England who learned about air evacuation flights into France following D Day from their local military newspaper were not pleased with how they – and by implication their work – were portrayed. They bitterly resented what could be seen as a publicity stunt, given that members of the press accompanied the flight nurses of the 816 MAES into France. The flight nurses were photographed picking poppies while the planes sat on the airstrip for more than two hours as 15 casualties were “rounded up” for evacuation back to England. 10 The “photo op” tarnished the flight nurse image, chief nurse June Sanders of the 819 MAES complained. “We knew that our battle for Air Evac had slipped a trifle. – That we had left ourselves open for the ridicule of our ground force sisters – that we would henceforth be referred to in this theater as ‘The Poppy Girls.’ We have been.” 11

A staff sergeant writing for Brief, a publication for army air forces personnel, posed the rhetorical questions:

What kind of a girl is the flight nurse?

Does she think in terms of capillaries, capsules and traction splints? Is she a spoiled woman who, socially, speaks only to Generals, Colonels and God – in the order named?

She could be very spoiled. Quite suddenly, she has been transported into a world of men without women.

The author’s answer painted a nurse more at the middle of the spectrum:

She has been photographed and whistled at like Hedy Lamarr at a hermit’s convention.

In spite of all this she is mostly just an American girl. A pretty good Josie with a fine sense of humor and plenty of guts. She is far less vain than most females … military or otherwise. 12

Although one could argue that the glamorization of flight nursing was overdone in the press, leading to resentment on the part of some of the flight nurses’ coworkers, the femininity inherent in such an image of the flight nurse served a purpose. Military officials would have found it difficult to discount the feminine image of the flight nurse that sold the air evacuation program during World War II. But to emphasize that image downplayed the professionalism of the flight nurse that was the real reason military officials had decided to use female nurses in the program. The answer was to portray these women as both glamorous and gutsy. This was the image that helped the sick and wounded soldiers cope with their battle wounds, injuries, and illnesses and, in turn, helped the flight nurses themselves cope with the professional and personal challenges of air evacuation duty in World War II.


         MSgt Ted Miller “New flight nurses cartoon’, Yank 1 September 1942, back cover.
2          Wm. [William] T. Lent, “AAF Medics,” Air Force 27 (July 1944): 51.
3          Maxine Davis, Through the Stratosphere: The Human Factor in Aviation (New York: Macmillan), 227.
4          Alfred D. Whelton, “A Heroine Comes Home,” Boston Advertiser, 9 September 1945.
5          M. Robert Halbouty, Attilio D. Puppel, and Charles E. Bybee, “Air Evacuation in the Combat Zone,” Air Surgeon’s Bulletin 2 (October 1945): 337.
6          Ed Edstrom and Joe Creason, “These Angels Fly on Man-Made Wings,” Louisville Courier-Journal ROTO–Magazine, 28 February 1943, 6.
7          Betty Peckham, Women in Aviation (New York: Nelson, 1945), 11.
         Marion Porter, “Nurses with Wings,” Colliers 113 (22 April 1944): 22.
9          R.S. [Roger Sheldon], “Far-East Flight Nurses,” and Benn F. Reyes, Paul Wheeler, and Roger Sheldon, “We Fly An ‘Air Evac’ Mission,” The Wing Ding [91st Photo Reconnaissance Wing, Philippines], 4 June 1945, 5–6.
10       Robert F. Futrell, Development of Aeromedical Evacuation in the USAF, 1909–1960, Historical Studies No. 23 (Maxwell AFB, AL: USAF Historical Division, Research Studies Institute, Air University; Manhattan, KS: Military Affairs/Aerospace Historian, 1960), 209.
11       June Sanders, “Unit History for Month of June 1944 – Section III,” 819 MAES, 1.
12       Joe Whitley, “Flight Nurses Are Women,” Brief 1 (14 November 1944): 10.





World War II Army Flight Nurses – 6 Aug 2017

WW2 Flight Nurse Poetry

For some World War II army flight nurses, the interim between earning their wings at the School of Air Evacuation at Bowman Field, Kentucky, and participating in air evacuation in the “real world” seemed like an eternity. The nurses turned to poetry to vent their frustrations. Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II details the flight nurses’ training and their follow-on assignments.

The 11 verses of the “803rd Lament,” written by Lieutenants Elsie Ott and Georgia Insley “while lying on cot waiting final movement orders at Bowman Field, Kentucky, July, 1943” and sung to the tune “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” depicts the sense of limbo in which the newly minted flight nurses sometimes found themselves but also gives a good overview of the flight nurses’ activities during that time:

I.     The Squadron is ready to go
But orders are coming in slow.
We wait without ranker
To get on a Tanker
Because we are ready to go.

II.     We’ve packed all our clothes in our trunks
And tied up our val packs and bunks;
We’ve all had our hair set,
Our barracks are “To Let”
We’ll help to defeat all those skunks.

III.     Major Kaplan is our C.O.
He’s fun, but means business, we know
He lectures on morale
“Get in there ant pitch, Gal
So we’ll be the first group to go.”

IV.     Audrey Rogers is our new Chief
About her appointment, No Beef
We all like her greatly,
She moves so sedately
She’s fair, square, and gives us no grief.

V.     We almost lost out when we talked
Too much of our movement, and balked
The orders we waited,
They had been abated.
On ten hikes since then we have walked.

VI.    On Bivouac we go with a smile,
We pitch, dig and march mile by mile
Gas alarms for our training
Major promised no raining,
But lost bets galore all the while.

VII.   Four flights in the squadron have we
They’re lettered A, B, C, and D.
Composed of a leader
and Five nurses sweeter
Than sugar in coffee or tea.

VIII.  We swim every P.M. at four
We leave in the truck from our door
We who were afraid
Have now become brave.
We swim, dive and clamour for more.

IX.    803rd has the “Crack Loading Team”
The best men, and all on the beam.
They’ll ne’er be defeated,
They’ll be there when needed.
For jobs that are dirty or clean.

X.     We have many more men than these
The cooks, drivers, clerks, and K.P.’s
They’re administration,
And work with elation
So we’ll soon be sent overseas.

XI.    We’ve named most the parts of our group
And name Supply with a whoop!
Our story is ended
It was well attended
Now orders MUST come for this group. 1

Orders could be slow in coming, but the 803 Medical Air Evacuation Squadron (MAES), like the squadrons that would follow, eventually did depart Bowman Field for the actual work of air evacuation overseas. One could forgive Lt Ott’s impatience, however; as a US Army hospital nurse in Karachi, India in January 1943, she had been selected to accompany five patients from Karachi, India to the United States in the first test of long-distance air evacuation, which earned her the Air Medal. At the conclusion of her historic mission, Ott requested and was granted orders for flight nurse training. Having already had a taste of flight nursing, Ott was eager to get back into the air. For more about that mission, see Beyond the Call of Duty.

Elsie Ott receives Air Medal, 26 March 1943
[USAF Photo]

While other squadrons were setting new records for number of patients evacuated, the 819 MAES flight nurses were grousing about their assignment in Prestwick, Scotland. With three complete squadrons available for air evacuation missions beginning in September 1944, the workload was light. When the 816 MAES had left for France in October and the 806 MAES was rumored to be on its way soon, flight nurse Phoebe La Munyan turned to the squadron history to vent her frustration on the delay in movement orders for the 819 MAES:

Uncensored, beauteous manuscript of undetermined style;
Outlet for a thousand woes which make the best souls rile;
Confessor of a thousand sins found in no other file;
I wonder if you realize you’re very much worthwhile!

For any transgression, we make a confession,
Or turn (we hope) ‘subtle’ accuser.
To right supposed wrongs, we type out our songs
Attempting to crush the abuser.

You’re not just a recorder of events, or a hoarder
Of morning reports and S.O.’s!
You’re our steam valve escape to keep us in shape –
Suppress tempers no matter what goes.

You help us coordinate, suppress, insubordinate,
Stop court martials ‘fore they begin.
Though designed for Posterity, it appears with true clarity,
You quiet the present’s mad din.

So we stop to salute – Take time out enroute
As we pour forth this latest edition.
We scrawl out this tripe and spread on our gripe
In accordance with army tradition! 2

The situation had not improved by December, and squadron historian June Sander’s parody of “’Twas the night before Christmas” brought no results:

‘Twas the night before Christmas’ in the ETO [European Theatre of Operations]
Our bedding rolls were packed all ready to go.
We went to church and said prayers sincere
In hopes that our orders soon would be here. 3

With too much time on their hands as the holidays approached, the flight nurses’ gripes intensified when holiday packages and mail failed to reach them. When the most wished-for gift – orders transferring the 819 MAES to a new assignment – still did not materialize, La Munyan picked up her pen again to indulge in some self-pity on behalf of her squadron:

Christmas is over. – The New Year draws near. –
And from all appearances we still will be here,
We’ve spouted and pouted and fumed and we’ve roared,
The 819th’s transfer has well been ignored,
Our Mail cannot find us; We’re parked upon shelves,
We surely fell sorry for – namely – ourselves.

The times in the offing at the close of the year
For new resolutions soon to appear.
We’re firmly convinced we should make a stand,
Size ourselves up and take us in hand:
We will do our best no matter where stuck.
We’ll try not to send our tempers amuck.
We’ll settle us down and all cease to gripe:
But who – inblueblazes – would believe all this tripe: P.H.L. 4

Orders for the 819 MAES finally arrived in February 1945, sending them to Greenham Commons and from there to France in April, which proved to be the squadron’s busiest month of activities when they evacuated 12,354 patients from Germany and France to England. 5

The deaths of flight nurse colleagues called out the inner poet in their friends. Lieutenant Catherine Price of the 817 MAES, who was on detached service with the 816 MAES in Europe, was lost along with her enlisted technician and 18 litter patients on 25 July 1944 when the aircraft in which they were traveling was reported missing en route to Newfoundland. The last communication with the flight crew occurred about 200 miles off the southern tip of Greenland. After a month of searching for the missing aircraft and waiting for word from or about its crew members, all hope was abandoned of finding survivors. Alice Fraser, a close friend, wrote “The Lost Mercy Plane” in Price’s memory, but her poem honors all the flight nurses who served their country during the war:

One of the stars in our service flag
Has turned from blue to gold;
A nurse’s cap has been laid aside
God has given her a crown to hold.

She offered her life for her country
Just as every American should;
She sat by the cots of the wounded
Their suffering she understood.

She traveled through miles of terror,
She wiped the tear filled eyes;
She silently prayed for her wounded boys,
As she flew through the darkened skys [sic].

And the boys on board that mercy plane,
Had faith in her gentle hand.
But why it had to be Catherine
We may never understand.

When we talk of the brave and courageous,
We naturally think of the men.
But our girls are winning a star and a stripe
When they offer their life for a friend.

Our girls can take their orders,
And they can lift up the stars and stripes,
And after this war is over,
May their sacrifice make things right. 6

When enlisted sergeant William J. Deak wrote his poem “Eloise,” supposedly at the request of flight nurse Eloise Richardson of the 801 MAES, he couldn’t have known that he was penning a eulogy as well as a love poem:

Of all the girls in all the lands
She seems the most attractive
Everything about her blends
To make my heart too active[.]

A pretty girl I’ve never seen
As this lovely Eloise
Anywhere I’ve ever been
Its her I long to squeeze.

Around her I long, my arms to throw
But behold she wears a bar
So sadder and weaker my heart does grow
While from her I remain afar.

Only a sergeant is what I am,
While she’s a second louie,
Majors and colonels, made me scram,
But to me it’s all so screwy.

So day by day my love does store
For Lt. Eloise Richardson
After the war, rank won’t be anymore
Then ma[y]be our love will have fun. 7

Lieutenant Eloise Richardson had a premonition of her death. Helena Ilic, one of the new flight nurses in Richardson’s squadron, remembered her saying at a party, “I’m never going to leave here.” Ilic replied, “Oh, Eloise, of course we are. We’re all going to leave here. One day this war will be over, and we’ll all go home.” 8  But on the evening of 18 May 1944 the plane in which Richardson was flying on her way to pick up a load of patients departed Bougainville for Guadalcanal and vanished. The weather had been poor in the vicinity of New Georgia, but other planes had gotten through without difficulty. The next day squadron members – flight nurses among them – went up in planes to search the area where the missing plane might have gone down but saw no trace of wreckage. 9 Richardson was declared missing in action and was the first nurse from the 801 MAES to lose her life. Richardson’s death ended her flight nurse colleagues’ sense of invincibility against the ravages of war; it must have been a devastating blow to Deak as well, whose future dreams had included his “lovely Eloise.”

Eloise Richardson, Guadalcanal, c. 1 May 1944
[USAF Photo]

Poetic tributes to the flight nurses were not limited to their own squadron members. Even pilots waxed poetic. Although it might not have been their first choice of assignment, some pilots enjoyed flying missions with flight nurses on board, as this excerpt from “Troop Carrier Song – New Guinea” reveals:

I have seen Savannah dropping down from four to five
And I wondered if one of us would get back alive
And if I had to do it over, I would rather die
As I flew the Nurses home.

Chorus. Glory, Glory that’s the way I want to fight
Glory, Glory, that’s the way I want to fight
Glory, Glory, that’s the way I want to fight
Just flying the Nurses home.

I’d rather fly a fighter than a transport any day
I’d rather fly a fortress than a biscuit-bomb at Lae
But when I see the Nurses you can bet I’ll always say
I’ll fly the Nurses home.

Chorus. Glory, Glory that’s the way I want to fight
Glory, Glory, that’s the way I want to fight
Glory, Glory, that’s the way I want to fight
Just flying the Nurses home.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the fighters victory roll
They have fought at thirty thousand, and have downed a worthy foe
And I have seen the bombers drop destruction down below
As I flew the Nurses home.

Chorus. Glory, Glory, what a hell of a way to fight
Glory, Glory, what a hell of a way to fight
Glory, Glory, what a hell of a way to fight
Just flying the Nurses home. 10

Flight nurses who were not evacuating patients could be assigned on a temporary basis to army station hospitals but had to be available at any time for their primary flying mission. Such duty, however, could fuel ill will in the nurses it was meant to help. According to Robert Futrell, army nurses in the Southwest Pacific made flight nurses of the 804 MAES remove their wings before arriving at their location. Similarly, when flight nurses volunteered to serve in an army hospital on Biak when not permitted to go onto the beachhead at Leyte in the Philippines, the hospital refused their help unless the flight nurses first removed their wings. 11

Not all ground nurses resented their airborne sisters, however. When flight nurses of the 804 MAES could not make flights past Port Morseby and Dibodura in New Guinea, station hospitals gave them food and lodging. Janet Foome, chief nurse of the 87th Station Hospital in Dobodura rendered poetic justice to these nurses whom she had housed and fed temporarily. The nurses at her hospital would be sorry to see the flight nurses leave for their next flying duties, she wrote, but realized that they had important, though not easy, work to do:

The little gold wings you wear o’er your heart
Signify to us that you have a hard part
To do in this job of winning the war
So here’s to you Nurses of the Army Air Corps. 12



1          Elsie Ott and Georgia Insley, “803rd Lament,” 803 MAES, July 1943. [AFHRA MED-803-HI]

2          P.H.L. [Phoebe H. La Munyan], “Squadron History – Section III: Ode to Squadron Histories,” in “Headquarters 819th Medical Air Evacuation Transport Squadron,” 31 October 1944. [AFHRA MED-819-HI]

3          June Sanders, “819th Squadron History – Section III,” 30 November 1944, 1. [AFHRA MED-819-HI]

4          P.H.L. [Phoebe H. La Munyan], “Squadron History – Section III,” 819 MAES, 31 December 1944, 1. [AFHRA MED-819-HI]

5          Emerson C. Kunde, “Part II – Narrative History,” 819 MAES, 30 April 1945. [AFHRA MED-819-HI]

6          Alice Fraser, “The Lost Mercy Plane,” 817 MAES. [AFHRA MED-817-HI] Reprinted in World War II Flight Nurses Association, The Story of Air Evacuation 1942–1989 (Dallas, TX: Taylor, 1989), 158–59.

7          Found with Wilbur A. Smith, “Historical Data, I July 1944 to 31 July 1944,” 801 MAES, 2 August 1944. [AFHRA-MED-801-HI]

8          Ilic Tynan, interview with Judith Barger, San Antonio, TX, 26 April 1986.

9          Ibid.; “Historical Data, 1 May 1944 to 31 May 1944,” 801 MAES, 2 June 1944. [AFHRA MED-801-HI]

10       “Troop Carrier Song – New Guinea,” enclosure No. 18 in Leopold J. Snyder, “History of the 804th Medical Air Evacuation Transport Squadron for April, 1944,” 27 May 1944, 45. [AFHRA MED-804-HI]

11       Robert F. Futrell, Development of Aeromedical Evacuation in the USAF, 1909–1960, Historical Studies No. 23 (Maxwell AFB, AL: USAF Historical Division, Research Studies Institute, Air University; Manhattan, KS: Military Affairs/Aerospace Historian, 1960).

12       Janet Foome, “Christmas Greetings and Farewell,” enclosure No. 17 in Snyder, “History of the 804th,” 27 May 1944, 44. {AFHRA MED-804-HI]


World War II Army Flight Nurses – 16 Jul 2017

World War II Army Flight Nurses in Song

Training for World War II flight nurses at Bowman Field, Kentucky was a memorable event for those army nurses selected for air evacuation duty. I detail that training in Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II.

Class songs often commemorated this time of rigorous military preparation. Familiar tunes fit with new words gave the flight nurses songs that fostered patriotism, esprit de corps and pride in their squadrons. The fourth class to graduate, on 2 July 1943, drew on the ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’ for inspiration:

Verse 1. Oh we went to school at Bowman and we earned a pair of wings,
Not for just the honor that the wearing of them brings,
Air Evacuation is the goal of all our schemes,
As we go flying on!

Verse 2. The training we’ve completed hasn’t done us any harm,
The sight of the enemy will cause us no alarm,
We’re fighting for a chance to speed our country’s liberty,
As we go flying on!

Chorus. Soaring through the heat of tropics,
Flying through the cold of arctic,
Bringing back our wounded soldiers,
So they can fight again. *

To the tune of ‘Thanks for the Memories’, members of the fifth class waxed nostalgic – though perhaps with tongue in cheek – as their 13 August 1943 graduation date neared:

Verse 1. Thanks for the memories of drilling in the sun
And making it seem fun, and eating sand
And killing flies and guarding with a gun,
Oh, thank you so much.

Verse 2. Thanks for the memories of swimming every week,
Of forming in the street, of scrubbing clothes
And dusting doors and bathing in the creek,
Oh, thank you so much.

Verse 3. Many’s the time that we sweated,
We thought that the day’d never come.
But we’ll make it, so help me, we’ll make it,
We’ll show them we’re all not so dumb.

Verse 4. Oh, thanks for the memories of sleeping in the rain,
Of spiders in the dark, of pitching tents
And digging holes for purposes quite plain,
Oh, thank you so much.

Flight nurses on parade at Bowman Field (USAF Photo)

The flight nurses of the 810 Medical Air Evacuation Squadron [MAES] took musical flight with ‘The Man on the Flying Trapeze’ for their Lament:

Verse 1. We fly thru the air with the greatest of ease,
Our burning desire is to go overseas;
Our greatest ambition, the soldiers to please,
We’re anxious to frustrate the foe.

Verse 2. Our muscles are bulging, our clothes getting tight,
We’re eager and ready to get in the fight,
Now won’t you take pity upon our sad plight?
Oh, General, please let us go.

The general to whom they referred was General David N.W. Grant, Air Surgeon, Army Air Forces, who had oversight of the medical air evacuation program, which he and his staff had instituted.

David N.W. Grant, Air Surgeon, Army Air Forces (USAF Photo)

An Ode to the 810 MAES was sung to ‘MacNamara’s Band’:

Verse 1. We’re the fighting (mighty) 810th from Bowman, the best squadron on the field,
And our superiority to no one will we yield.
From life’s trials and tribulations we ask no one to us shield,
We’ll prove that we’re in earnest once our orders are unsealed.

Verse 2. We’re skinny and fat and lanky and short, some pretty and some cute,
And while we’re very modest, our own horns don’t like to toot,
We can hold our own with the very best, as well as shoot and salute.
If General Pershing could see us now, for us we’re sure he’d root.

Verse 3. Oh – the armies used to travel on their stomachs, so they say,
But modern Florence Nightingales go quite a different way,
For we’re a part of something which is really here to stay,
And, General Grant, we’re out to prove that what we’ve said ain’t hay.

The 811 MAES composed their own battle cry to the tune of the ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’:

Verse 1. We’re the Fighting 811th from the School of Air Evac,
In the fight for vic’try as we fly the wounded back.
A bunch of Eager Beavers with our banner flying high,
We’ll all be back again.

Verse 2. They taught us how to load a plane and how to shoot a gun,
Drive a Jeep or pitch a tent and drilling in the sun,
If we meet the enemy we know what’s to be done,
So we’ll be back again.

Verse 3. We’re happy in our squadron and we’re proud of Captain Gray,
All the other Officers, our Chief Nurse Poirier,
They’re teaching us to be prepared for what may come our way,
So we’ll be back again.

Verse 4. We’ll bring to Colonel Stevenson and Captain Leontine,
All the fame of Air Evac that started as a dream.
When the war is over and our final goal is won,
We’ll all be back to say:

Chorus. We’re the Fighting 811th,
Flying patients thru’ the heavens,
Bringing glory to our Squadron,
Till we come back again.

School of Air Evacuation, Bowman Field, KY (USAF Photo)

The nurses of the 822 MAES, who were experiencing one of the less glamorous aspects of air travel, brought some humor to the situation to the tune of ‘Paper Doll’:

Verse 1. I’m going to buy a paper bag that I can call my own,
A bag that all us nurses need up there.
For when this evacuation plane takes off of this terrain,
I’ll need a bag to fill up with some …… air.
When we come down to earth there’ll be some waiting;
We’ll get this plane in readiness for war.
I’d rather have a paper bag to call my own
Than stay and G.I. up the floor.

Verse 2. I guess I brought a million bags or more,
Oh, I guess I should have bought a dozen more.
I just told the crew, that my job was new,
I need a stomach made of iron ore.
Oh! it’s tough to make the grade at Air Evac,
But it ain’t so tough as cleaning up this fact.
I’d rather have a paper bag to call my own
Than stay to G.I. up the floor,
I really mean it!
Than stay to G.I. up the floor.

Some songs were composed to honor military leaders whom the squadrons recognized for their role in advancing air evacuation and the flight nurse role. General Grant was the recipient of musical tributes, one of which, to the tune of ‘Pack up Your Troubles’, the 811 MAES flight nurses sang to the general in person when he visited Bowman Field:

Here’s to the friend of every Air Force Nurse.
We’re Proud to say,
He helped to make the School of Air Evac.
What it is today:
Gave us wings and flying clothes,
We’re trained for come what may. So,
Let’s give a rousing cheer for General GRANT!
He’s here, to-day.

Not to be outdone, the 812 MAES flight nurses composed their own tribute to General Grant to the tune of ‘Danny Boy’:

Verse 1. Oh, Air Evacuation is our goal you see,
Our mission is to bring our wounded home.
Through this we help to speed our country’s liberty –
We’ll be the greatest team the world has ever known.

Verse 2. For this we owe to one who made it possible –
Our sincere thanks and heartfelt gratitude –
For General Grant, the father of our SAE,
We’ll do our best and bring our boys through.

Colonel Ralph Stevenson also received a musical tribute. As Commandant of the 349th Aeromedical Evacuation Group, Stevenson oversaw the training of the flight nurses. The nurses fittingly set their song for their ‘dandy’ commandant, to ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’:

He’s an SAE-E dandy,
He’s a good scout thru and thru.
A commandant that we are proud to claim,
He made this the best of all schools.
Where ere the AAF may send him,
We will cheer him all the way.
Col. Stevenson goes to Stout
To carry on his duties,
He is our AAF, SAE pride and joy.

Stevenson had orders transferring him to Stout Army Air Field in Indianapolis as First Troop Carrier Command Surgeon.

The flight nurses of Class 43H that graduated from the School of Air Evacuation at Bowman Field on 21 January 44, set the words of their class song to the Cornell Alma Mater. Their own Alma Mater praised their instructors and chief nurse and vowed to apply what they had learned to save the lives of the wounded soldiers under their care:

Verse 1. Hail to thee our Alma Mater,
Hail to SAE,
When we’re far across the water,
We’ll remember thee.
Hail to all our fine instructors
And our chief Nurse too,
We’ll remember all you’ve taught us
We will see this thru.

Verse 2. We will care for all the wounded
In the skies above,
We will see that they return
To the ones they love.
When the battle cry is over
And we’re here to stay,
We will praise our Alma Mater
For the part she played.

Ethel Carlson, Jenny Boyle, Brooxie Mowrey and Frances Sandstrom, graduates of that class, were sent to England, where they flew into Normandy after D Day, and all saw it through without losing a patient inflight. Each of these flight nurses is featured in previously posted blogs on 10 January 2015, 20 January 2015, 14 August 2016 and 18 December 2016, respectively.

* All songs included in this blog are from the Leora B. Stroup papers archived at the AMEDD Museum at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio,Texas. I have corrected obvious typographical errors found in the original typed documents and added missing punctuation when needed to make the songs more readable – and singable.