Remembering military nurses on Memorial Day

Shutterstock | Niyazz
Shutterstock | Niyazz

For most people Memorial Day is nothing more than the first long weekend of summer—perhaps involving an excursion to the beach, a family get-together or the opportunity to take in the Indy 500.

But Memorial Day is far more than that. It’s a time for remembering all those who served and lost their lives in war.

What many people tend to forget is that along with the soldiers who go to war, nurses go as well—not to fight in battle, but to help save the lives of injured soldiers and to provide comfort to those soldiers they cannot save. U.S. military nursing has been around for several centuries—since the 1700s. Here are some military nursing facts that you may find interesting, and which might encourage you, as a nurse, to devote a little time this upcoming Memorial Day to paying even a silent tribute to military nurses.

  • More than 10,000 nurses served in World War I. They traveled across the Atlantic Ocean by ship, and the journey took about two weeks.
  • Somewhere between 200 and 300 nurses died in World War I. Many contracted illnesses such as scarlet fever and influenza, which took their lives. Some died in military accidents, and some died at the hands of enemy weapons.
  • In the 1960s and 1970s, the nurses who went overseas to nurse injured soldiers in the Vietnam War were young women who had just graduated from nursing school. This was their first nursing experience, and they served for one year minimum. They could serve longer if they chose to.
  • As the machines of war evolved, the nurses who served overseas saw and treated injuries they would never have to deal with again. For example, during the Vietnam War, napalm, a flammable liquid that causes severe burns and often death, was a commonly used weapon, and nurses saw its horrible effects.
  • Today, the nurses who go overseas range in age from 20 to 60, and one-third are men. The service term is six months, but “active duty” nurses can be reposted (sent back) several times.
  • The Army Nurse Corps became an official branch of the Army Medical Department in 1901. You can learn about joining the Army Nurse Corps on the U.S. Army website.
  • Military nurses have served in numerous wars, including the Spanish-American War, both World Wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm. They have served with NATO troops in Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo.
  • During World War II, 67 Army nurses and 16 Navy nurses were held by the Japanese for three years as prisoners of war.
  • Located near the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., is a memorial to all nurses who have served in all wars. It’s a bronze statue of a nurse caring for a wounded soldier. As a nurse, hopefully you’ll have the opportunity to visit this memorial someday—if not on this Memorial Day, then perhaps on another Memorial Day, or any day.

Be sure to take time to reflect on your country’s honorable military nursing history, one that still has many pages to be written—since war is unfortunately not history yet.


Cynthia Dusseault

Cynthia Dusseault is a professional freelance writer with both a health and an education background. A former medical radiation technologist and elementary school teacher, she realized that no matter what she did, she was drawn to any task that involved writing, so she decided, over a decade ago, to write full-time. Since then, she has written for a variety of magazines and websites including Nursing PRN, National Review of Medicine, University Affairs, Your Health, Education Leaders Today, Today's Parent, Children's Playmate, and many more.She has written about topics such as asthma, genital herpes, circumcision, teleradiology, body art, learning disabilities and exercise trends, and she absolutely adores the fact that writing—particularly doing the research for the articles she writes—makes her a lifelong learner.

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3 Responses to Remembering military nurses on Memorial Day

  1. Wise Old Owl

    It has been said that Nurses run hospitals like sergeants run the Army and Chiefs run the Navy-this from a 20 year Navy Captain jet-jockey who served during the Vietnam War.
    God bless and protect ALL of our military personnel and Thank You ALL for serving!

  2. samantha

    Thank you for sharing this. I’ll be sure to pass this link along to my fellow nursing friends.

  3. NurseJ

    Don’t forget about the enlisted LPN’s! We serve as medics and “Charlies”, are deployed with the other enlisted members for the entire deployment (mostly 12 months now) are are utilized in military hospitals all over the world! I love my fellow Charlies and still run into them on the civilian side!