The United States Army Nurse Corps (NC) was formally established by the U.S. Congress in 1901. It is one of the six medical Special Branches (or “Corps”) of officers which — along with medical enlisted soldiers — comprise the Army Medical Department (AMEDD).
The NC is the nursing service for the U.S. Army and provides qualified nursing staff in support of the Department of Defense medical plans. This NC is composed entirely of registered nurses (RNs).
At the start of the war in Dec. 1941, there were fewer than 1000 nurses in the Army Nurse Corps and 700 in the Navy Nurse Corps. All were women.
Colonel Flikke’s small headquarters in 1942, though it contained only 4 officers and 25 civilians, supervised the vast wartime expansion of nurses, in cooperation with the Red Cross. She only took unmarried women age 22 — 30 who had their RN training from civilian schools. They enlisted for the war plus six months, and were discharged if they married or became pregnant.
On 26 February 1944 Congress passed a bill that granted Army and Navy Nurses actual military rank, approved for the duration of the war plus 6 months.
With over 8 million soldiers and airmen, the needs were more than double those of World War I. Hundreds of new military hospitals were constructed for the expected flow of casualties. Fearing a massive wave of combat casualties once Japan was invaded in late 1945, President Franklin D. Roosevelt called on Congress early in 1945 for permission to draft nurses. However with the rapid collapse of Germany early in 1945, and the limitation of the war in the Pacific to a few islands, the draft was not needed and was never enacted.
By the end of the war, the Army and Army Air Forces (AAF) had 54,000 nurses and the Navy 11,000 — all women. Some 217 black nurses served in all-black Army medical units. The AAF was virtually autonomous by 1942, and likewise its Nurse Corps. Much larger numbers of enlisted men served as medics. These men were in effect practical nurses who handled routine care under the direction of nurse officers. Likewise many enlisted Wacs and Wafs (women in the Army and AAF) served in military hospitals. Medical advances greatly increased survival rates for the wounded: 96% of the 670,000 wounded soldiers and sailors who made it to a field hospital staffed by nurses and doctors survived their injuries. Amputations were seldom necessary to combat gangrene. Penicillin and sulfa drugs proved highly successful in this regard. Nurses were deeply involved with post-operative recovery procedures, air evacuation, and new techniques in psychiatry and anesthesia.
Upon Flikke’s retirement in 1943, she was succeeded by Florence A. Blanchfield, who successfully promoted new laws in 1947, that established the Army, Navy and Air Force Nurse Corps on a permanent basis, giving the nurses regular commissions on exactly the same terms as male officers. A month before she retired in 1947, Blanchfield became the first women to hold a regular Army commission.
During the Korean War Army nurses would once again treat the wounded. Nurses would staff MASH units and standard emplaced hospitals in Japan and Korea. Nurses were on the forefront of battlefield medicine during the conflict, playing a major role in the treatment of the wounded U.N. forces within mere minutes or hours of the wounds being inflicted.