By Ensign Devon Cassidy, NC
Robert E. Bush Naval Hospital
The Navy Nurse Corps was established by Congress on May 13, 1908. At the time, there were only 20 female nurses. These twenty nurses became known as the “Sacred Twenty”. They were the first females to formally serve in the US Navy. At the beginning of World War I, the Nurse Corps grew from 20 to 160 members who not only worked in hospitals and clinics on the home-front but were also deployed to overseas military hospitals and with special combat support operating teams. By November 1918, there were 1,550 active duty Navy Nurses.
In 1920, Navy Nurses received orders for shipboard positions aboard the USS Relief. During World War II, Navy Nurses who served aboard the USS Solace were responsible for treating casualties from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. By 1945, 11,086 nurses were serving in over 40 Naval Hospitals, 176 Dispensaries and 6 Hospital Corps Schools. The first Navy Flight nurses served in Iwo Jima and Okinawa during medical evacuation flights in 1945. During the Cold War, Navy Nurses continued to serve aboard the Hospital ships providing care to sailors and marines. After the Cold War, the Nurse Corps took on a new mission to aid in humanitarian relief and disaster support. With the Gulf War in the 1990’s, two hospital ships supported the fleet and fleet hospital facilities ashore. Today, Navy Nurses are deployed all around the world supporting humanitarian relief efforts and combat missions with Fleet Surgical Teams, hospital ships, aircraft carriers and boots on the ground with Marine and Army forces.
In 1944, Navy Nurses were formally recognized as commissioned officers. The Navy Nurses were officially distinguished as a permanent staff corps in 1947. The first male nurse officer was commissioned in 1964. Today, there are over 4,000 active and reserve Nurse Corps officers serving from Ensign to Rear Admiral. The primary mission of the Nurse Corps today is to provide quality nursing care and promote the health of uniformed personnel and their family members. Nurse Officers today serve in leadership roles, integrating compassion with discipline and preventative health promotion with wartime readiness.