Nurse Pioneers in Aviation


This year I had the honor of representing the World War II US Army flight nurses for their induction as a group into the Pioneer Hall of Fame at the 35th Annual Women in Aviation (WAI) Convention held in Orlando, FL 21–23 March 2024. Having served as a flight nurse myself with the 9th Aeromedical Evacuation Group based at Clark Air Base in the Philippines 1973–1975 at the end of the Vietnam War, and as author of Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II, I was pleased to have been asked to attend the convention on behalf of the WW2 US Army flight nurses and to speak at the induction ceremony.

Star honoring the 2024 WAI Pioneer Hall of Fame inductees
(Photo courtesy of Lucy Young)

WAI is dedicated to increasing the number of women involved in all aspects of aviation and aerospace and provides networking, education, mentoring, and scholarships for women and men in careers in aviation and aerospace.

The WAI Pioneer Hall of Fame honors women who make significant contributions as record setters, pioneers, or innovators in the aviation and aerospace industries. The WAI website states: “Special consideration is given to individuals or groups who have helped other women be successful in aviation or opened doors of opportunity for other women.”(From the WAI website:

Flight nurses of the 806th Medical Air Evacuation Transport Squadron,
on maneuvers, Bowman Field, KY, May 1943.
The squadron later served in Europe (USAF Photo)


Award of Air Medal to flight nurses of the 801st Medical Air
Evacuation Transport Squadron flight nurses, Guadalcanal,
July 1944 (USAF Photo)

The WAI Press Release about the 2024 inductees reads:

U.S. Army Air Forces World War II Flight Nurses

At the height of World War II, 500 flight nurses served with the U.S. Army Air Forces as members of 31 medical air evacuation squadrons. These worldwide missions were located on both the European and Pacific fronts. The first class of these dedicated volunteer flight nurses graduated from air evacuation training at Bowman Field in Louisville, Kentucky, on February 18, 1943. These women had to be in top physical condition for grueling medical evacuation missions. They were trained in crash procedures, survival training, and high-altitude physiology. More than one million patients were evacuated by air between January 1943 and May 1945, and only 46 died enroute. (From the WAI website:


WW2 flight nurses on parade at Bowman Field, KY (USAF Photo)

A montage shown to attendees on Jumbotrons during the ceremony commemorated the achievements of the WW2 US Army flight nurses, after which I was introduced. (Link to U.S. Army Air Forces World War II Flight Nurses 2024 Pioneer Hall of Fame Inductee

Jumbotron view of emcee introducing Judy Barger, PhD, Lt Colonel, USAF,
Retired (to the right on the screen) on stage at the induction ceremony
for the 2024 WAI Pioneer Hall of Fame. (Photo courtesy of Lucy Young)

I then stepped up to the podium to accept the award on behalf of these inductees, and said:

I’m delighted to represent the World War II Army flight nurses for their induction into the Pioneer Hall of Fame. These women indeed were pioneers who took nursing to new heights as members of the 31 Medical Air Evacuation Squadrons activated during the war.

I was privileged to interview 25 of these remarkable women in person in 1986 about their wartime experiences, and their stories form the core of my book Beyond the Call of Duty. The Imperial War Museum in London has made 20 of these interviews available as digital audio files on their website for others to appreciate.

Their stories highlight some of the challenges that they faced and are

Humorous – “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!”

And Heartfelt – “But you feel so helpless when your patient’s going out and there isn’t anything you can do. … We had no oxygen on board, no IVs to give him – nothing to help a patient like that. And all I could do was just watch him.”

Entertaining – “One time one of the planes I got was just covered with glossy prints, and they were all nudes. … So I took my Band-Aids, and I dressed the entire ceiling of the plane.”

And Revealing – “I was petrified of flying. I was scared to death to fly. I was scared on every trip.”

Over 80 years have passed since these women embarked upon this special type of nursing duty. To paraphrase John McCrae, poet of In Flanders Fields: They lived – and died – 17 of them in the line of duty. And passed the torch to those who came after them – “to hold it high.” Today their successors, members of the Air Force Nurse Corps, are still found evacuating the sick and wounded wherever Americans are serving their country.

The accomplishments of the World War 2 Army flight nurses give new meaning to the phrase in the original Flight Nurses Creed written during the war: “I will be faithful to my training and to the wisdom handed down to me by those who have gone before me.”

Thank you very much.

While still on stage, I accepted the Pioneer Hall of Fame plaque, which I have donated to the Women Military Aviators (WMA) organization for inclusion in the memorabilia of the Woman’s Collection at Texas Woman’s University, the official archive of the Women Military Aviators.

WAI Pioneer Hall of Fame plaque, 2024 (Photo courtesy of Margie Varuska)

With its purpose to “Promote and preserve for historical, educational and literary purposes the role of women pilots, navigators and aircrew in the service of their country during times of war and peace”, WMA established an official archive in 2013 at Texas Woman’s University in Denton, TX funded through the WMA Endowment administered by the TWU Foundation. (WMA website:

The Women Military Aviators organization with its goals of “Preserving the past, Promoting the Present, Protecting the future” of women in military aviation welcomes former and current military flight nurses as members. (WMA website:

The WMA website identifies eligibility for membership:

Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), women graduates of military pilot and navigational training programs, and aircrew members as specified by each branch of the service. “Aircrew members” refers to military members, officer or enlisted, who successfully complete a formal course of instruction leading to designation as a flight crew member aboard aircraft and/or flight status eligibility for purposes of collecting flight pay. (WMA website:

This year’s WAI convention in Orlando was my first to attend, and I felt uplifted in the presence of so many women aviators. For more about the convention, click here to read the Press Release:


To learn more about the WW2 army flight nurses, see Judith Barger, Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II (Kent State University Press, 2007).



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