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This Month in AFMS History: February 2018 marks 75th anniversary of the first formal graduation of U.S. Air Force flight nurses

  • Published
  • By Judith Taylor, Senior Historian
  • Air Force Medical Service History Office
Seventy-five years ago, on February 18, 1943, the School of Air Evacuation held its first formal flight nurse graduation. Organized at Bowman Field, Kentucky, on October 6, 1942, the school trained flight surgeons, flight nurses, and flight technicians to care for patients during aeromedical transport.

Previous classes of flight nurses had undergone training described as, “haphazard.” Trainees report it consisting of not much more than, “basic training, squadron administration, the use of the litter, and loading of air evacuation aircraft.” In November 1942, the U.S. War Department directed the 349th Air Evacuation Group to develop formal training to prepare flight nurses and other personnel for aeromedical evacuation duty.

The first graduating class from the new school had 30 members who completed an organized four-week program of instruction. It included class work in air evacuation nursing, air evacuation tactics, survival, aeromedical physiology, mental hygiene in relation to flying, training in plane loading procedures, military indoctrination and a one-day bivouac.

The World War II Fight Nurses Association’s history of air evacuation, described the commencement ceremony:

In his address to the first class, Brig. Gen. David N. W. Grant said, "Your graduation in the first class of nurses from the first organized course in air evacuation, marks the beginning of a new chapter in the history of nursing. Air Evacuation of the sick and wounded is already an accomplished feat, requiring only trained personnel for rapid and extensive expansion."

At the end of his address, on the spur of the moment, realizing no one had thought of an insignia for the flight nurse, he unpinned his own miniature flight surgeon's wings and pinned them on the honor graduate, 2nd Lt. Geraldine Dishroon, remarking that the insignia of the flight nurse would be similar to that of the flight surgeon, with the addition of a small "N" superimposed on it.

Although Lt. Dishroon received the first set of flight nurse’s wings, Lt. Ethel Guffey had the distinction of being the first graduate to receive a diploma that day. All told, more than 1,000 flight nurses graduated from the program at Bowman field, before the flight nurse course moved to the School of Aviation Medicine at Randolph Field, Texas in October 1944.

Lt. Guffey served as a Flight Nurse with the 806th Medical Air Evacuation Squadron (MAES), and took care of the wounded from the Normandy invasion in June 1944. She made Captain by the time she left the Army Air Forces. Lt. Dishroon was assigned to the 806th MAES, the first into the European theater, and flew missions in England, the continent and trans-Atlantic to the U.S., earning three Air Medals.