WWII flight nurse
First American woman to be killed in action during WWII
Image: National Museum of the US Air Force
Freeland, Michigan, USA
Aleda Lutz was the first American woman to die in combat in World War II. She was born in Freeland, Michigan (a rural town adjacent to Saginaw) and graduated as a nurse from the Saginaw General Hospital School of Nursing in 1937. Soon after receiving her degree though, the world broke out in war. For the first time, women were being called on to do duties that never before had been considered appropriate for their sex. They worked as riveters, mechanics, pilots, and much more. In 1942, Lutz enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps. She was trained in the Aerial Evacuation Service, which revolutionized military medical care by providing flying ambulances controlled by flight nurses. The service (arm of the US Air Force) saved the lives of many wounded soldiers by staffing the planes with flight nurses and getting the wounded to hospitals far from the front lines. When the Allies invaded North Africa in February of 1943, Lutz was sent to Tunisia to evacuate the wounded troops. She went on to save soldiers at the invasion of Anzio, Italy. In 1944, Lutz was transferred from Italy to southern France to evacuate wounded soldiers from the Allied invasion campaign. On November 1, 1944, she was flying patients from the front lines to a hospital in Italy when severe storms downed the plane. She died at the age of 28. At the time of her death, Lutz had flown 196 missions and evacuated over 3500 men. In all, about 500 flight nurses served as members of the medical air evacuation squadrons. Of the 1,176,048 patients that these women evacuated, only 46 died en route. Seventeen flight nurses lost their lives during the war. Lutz was awarded the Air Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters. Posthumously, she was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with six oak leaf clusters, the first honor of its kind made to an army nurse in WWII. In 1945, a US Army hospital ship was named after her and, in 1990, the Saginaw Veterans Hospital was rededicated in her name. A stele marks the crash site near Doizieux, France, which notes that Lutz was the first American woman who died in action during WWII.