Remembering Nurses Who Served the Wounded and Dying and Those Who Died Themselves

By Maureen Shawn Kennedy, AJN editor-in-chief

Normandy American Cemetery, France. Photo by Karen Roush

Normandy American Cemetery, France. Photo by Karen Roush

So many of us look forward to Memorial Day weekend as a welcome long weekend and official start of summer. But there are many for whom Memorial Day (the last Monday in May) is a reminder of loved ones who died in military service—and that includes a significant number of military nurses who cared for the wounded in various wars.

We’d like to take this occasion to remind us all of the real meaning of this day and to honor the sacrifices of our colleagues. While it’s hard to find specific numbers of nurses who died in wars, one can extrapolate from what’s known about women who died, since most women who served in combat areas from the start of the 20th century through the Vietnam War were nurses.*

Nurse Lynne Kohl during Vietnam War. For more information, see the AJN article about the Vietnam Women's Memorial linked to in this post.

Nurse Lynne Kohl during Vietnam War. For more information, see the AJN article about the Vietnam Women’s Memorial linked to in this post.

According to the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation, the first women members of the military killed in the line of duty were two army nurses, Edith Ayres and Helen Wood, in World War I. The foundation reports that “359 servicewomen died during World War I, the vast majority from the influenza epidemic that swept around the world, killing millions of people. Approximately 543 military women died in the line of duty during World War II, including 16 from enemy fire, and others from a variety of causes including aircraft and vehicle accidents and illness. Seventeen military nurses died during the Korean War, most from aircraft crashes. Eight military women died while serving in Vietnam, one from enemy fire, and 16 died during Operation Desert Storm.” That’s a total of 943 women, most of whom were nurses.

One hard-won memorial specific to military women is the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, which was created through the efforts of nurse Diane Carlson and others. A May 2009 AJN article, “The Vietnam Women’s Memorial: Better Late than Never” (free until August 1), by Kay Schwebke, describes the project to create the memorial and also vividly details the experiences of nurses who served in Vietnam and bore the memories with them throughout their lives. (Be sure to listen to the moving podcasts of interviews with and poems by these nurses.) Take a moment to remember them, and those nurses in past wars who did not make it through their time of service, and of course the many soldiers they tended and saw die far from home, this Memorial Day.

* It’s perhaps worth noting that, prior to the dominance of women in nursing and in military nursing in the 20th century, men had a long history of providing nursing care in war—and now, of course, there are again male military nurses risking their lives and facing the many challenges of wartime nursing.

 

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2016-11-21T13:02:30+00:00 May 22nd, 2015|nursing history|8 Comments

About the Author:

Editor-in-chief, AJN

8 Comments

  1. Angie Maitland April 12, 2016 at 9:35 pm

    Thank you, for highlighting the women who served in the military as nurses. Often when we hear or read about the war in Vietnam, we forget to mention the nurses who served the wounded. These nurses, have been around taking care of soldiers from War World I thru the present time. Many lost their lives in the line of duty while taking care of the wounded. This article has brought out heroes who sacrificed their lives to aid another. Selfless service and honor is portrayed in this article. I am pleased to hear that the Vietnam Women’s Memorial was made to honor military women.

  2. Angie April 12, 2016 at 9:14 pm

    Thank you, for highlighting the women who served in the military as nurses. Often when we hear or read about the war in Vietnam, we forget to mention the nurses who served the wounded. These nurses, have been around taking care of soldiers from War World I thru the present time. Many lost their lives in the line of duty while taking care of the wounded. This article has brought out heroes who sacrificed their lives to aid another. Selfless service and honor is portrayed in this article.

  3. Samantha Wrong November 23, 2015 at 9:46 pm

    When we think about war, we often think about the men and women who risk their lives for our country, but we never think about the nurses who also risk their lives treating and helping to cure the wounded. We must not forget these individuals and what they have done in the past and continue to do today.

  4. Jessica Leon November 18, 2015 at 1:17 pm

    I appreciate this post bringing to light the role of nurses in the military and the sacrifices they have made for our country. We must continue to honor nurses for their service. I’m glad efforts have been made to create a memorial for the nurses that served in Vietnam Nam. I hope history of military nurses will continue to be documented.

  5. andrea May 27, 2015 at 11:50 am

    the sorry is truly appreciated. I did not hear about the nurses who were in many battles in the papers or on the news. Andrea Dopwell RN

  6. Pabrik Rambu May 22, 2015 at 11:18 pm

    amazing story …

  7. Sandra Curtis May 22, 2015 at 11:20 am

    Thanks for highlighting these important women and their contributions to the Armed Services! Thanks to all that served and cared for the injured!

  8. Daisy Rodriguez May 22, 2015 at 11:15 am

    We have to remember Florence Nightingale particularly on this day because she brought a band of nurses to take care of the wounded during the war in Scutari. They risked their lives to respond to their calling. They were heroes led by the founder of modern nursing.

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