Military nursing had its origins with the Crimean and American Civil War. Serving from the “Sacred Twenty” to Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom the Navy Nurse Corps turned 100 on 13 May 2008. Established by Congress in 1908, with funds appropriated by President Theodore Roosevelt, it is a unique corps of the Department of the Navy that has evolved overtime with the Nation’s needs in war and peace. Like the U.S. Navy Medical, Dental, and Hospital Corps, the mission of the Nurse Corps is to provide care for sailors and Marines. From its original 20 female members, the Navy Nurse Corps expanded with the demands of World War I in the United Kingdom and Europe when the U.S. Navy deployed five base hospitals and a number of special operating teams including those loaned to the U.S. Army during the 1918 offensives. By November of 1918 there were some 1,550 Navy Nurses in naval hospitals and transports at home and abroad.
When World War II began, nurses were aboard the USS Solace (AH-5) that treated the casualties from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Others were among the Americans taken prisoner on Guam and in the Philippines. Some of these were repatriated in 1942, while the remainder remained in captivity until 1945. Reaching peak strength in 1945, some 11,086 nurses were serving in 40 naval hospitals, 176 dispensaries, and at 6 hospital corps schools. Overseas this included hospital ships, air evacuations facilities, and at forward operating bases. The U.S. Navy assigned nurses relative rank in 1942, with actual rank being established in 1944, and permanent commissioned rank as a staff corps in 1947. The first male nurses were commissioned in 1964 (comprising some 25 percent of the Nurse Corps strength currently).
During the Cold War in Korea and Vietnam, Navy Nurses once more served aboard hospital ships and at Navy support activities where along with the other medical counterparts, life saving medical care was provided to sailors and Marines. After the Cold War, there was renewed emphasis was on humanitarian and disaster support. In the 1990-1991 Gulf War two hospital ships supported the fleet and fleet hospital facilities operated ashore. By decades end, there were 5,000 Navy Nurses along with the other naval medical staff down to around 4,000 in this century.
With the current Global War on Terrorism, Navy Medicine continues to save lives “on land and sea.” According to Rear Admiral Christine M. Bruzek-Kohler, USN (NC): “the Marines and sailors we serve needed us then and they need us now a we provide expert nursing care to them whenever and wherever it is needed.” Happy Birthday Nurse Corps!