A Nurse, a Purple Heart Medal, and the Pearl Harbor Attack

USS Arizona burning after Pearl Harbor attack

Tomorrow is National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, when we honor the more than 2,400 Americans who were killed in the attack on December 7, 1941, that led the United States to enter World War II. Many nurses were there that day, caring for the wounded and showing civilians how to be of assistance—just as they have been during wartime dating back to the American Revolution. They have served in the U.S. military since Congress authorized the Army Nurse Corps and Navy Nurse Corps in the first decade of the 1900s, and before that provided battlefield care as civilians.

A nurse honored for service during the Pearl Harbor Attack.

Some of these nurses are spotlighted by exhibits and web pages of the National Women’s History Museum, an online museum that aims to “show the full scope of women’s contributions to history” and thus highlights the histories of female-majority professions such as nursing. “The Bravery of Army Nurse Annie G. Fox at Pearl Harbor” tells the story of the first U.S. servicewoman to receive the Purple Heart medal. First Lieutenant Fox was the head nurse at Station Hospital at Hickam Field, on the naval base at Pearl Harbor, when the attack occurred. Nearly a year later, when she was given the Purple Heart, the text of the award lauded her behavior that day:

. . . in an exemplary manner, [she] performed her duties . . . administered anesthesia to patients during the heaviest part of the bombardment, assisted in dressing the wounded, taught civilian volunteer nurses to make and wrap dressing, and worked ceaselessly with coolness and efficiency, and her fine example of calmness, courage, and leadership was of great benefit to the morale of all with whom she came in contact.

Veterans typically received the Purple Heart if they were wounded by the enemy, but Lieutenant Fox wasn’t injured during the Pearl Harbor attack. She was one of only a few Americans who received the award for “a singularly meritorious act of extraordinary fidelity or essential service.” After the award criteria were subsequently changed—determining that only those wounded by enemy forces could receive the Purple Heart—Lieutenant Fox’s medal was rescinded. She was instead awarded the Bronze Star Medal two years later.

Lieutenant Fox was a career officer in the Army Nurse Corps who also served two years in World War I. She had been promoted to chief nurse of Hickam Field just a month before the Pearl Harbor attack. She died in 1987, at age 93.

The future of the National Women’s History Museum.

The National Women’s History Museum hopes to one day have a place within the Smithsonian Institution and a physical presence on the National Mall in Washington, DC, proposals that are included in the Smithsonian Women’s History Museum Act (H.R. 19), which was introduced by representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) earlier this year and has since attracted more than 250 cosponsors.

Wartime nurses in the AJN archives.

In the meantime, AJN’s archives provide a rich source of historical material about both nurse veterans and caring for military veterans, including these articles published in the last year:

See also these notable AJN blog posts on nurses in wartime:

Your comments, opinions, and stories are always welcome!


2017-12-06T10:48:59+00:00 December 6th, 2017|Nursing, nursing history|0 Comments
AJN senior editor

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