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First Female General, Who Served as Army Nurse in 3 Wars, Dies at 97

Anna Mae Hays, who pioneered the service's nurse corps and became the U.S military's first female general. (Army Photo)
Anna Mae Hays, who pioneered the service's nurse corps and became the U.S military's first female general. (Army Photo)

Anna Mae Hays -- an Army nurse who served in malaria-infested jungles during World War II, pioneered the service's nurse corps and became the U.S military's first female general -- died Jan. 7, according to a report in The Washington Post.

Hays, 97, died of complications from a heart attack, the Post reported.

Hays retired from the Army in 1971 after making history when she became the first woman to be promoted to brigadier general on June 11, 1970.

She joined the Army in 1942 and deployed to Ledo, Assam, India, with the 20th General Hospital in January 1943, according to a biography on armyheritage.org.

The hospital was stationed at the entrance to the famous Ledo Road, which cut through the jungles into Burma.

"Assam was one of the worst, if not the worst, malaria districts in the whole world. So, most of our staff suffered from malaria and, of course, there were hundreds of patients with malaria," Hays said in a 1983 interview as part of an oral history collected for the U.S. Army Senior Officer Oral History Program and housed in the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Hays also helped treat wounded men from the Army's famed Merrill's Marauders commando unit.

"I can definitely recall how the patients would come to us in the operating room in need of emergency surgery, full of caked mud, and how it would have to be scraped off their bodies prior to surgery," Hays said in the oral history.

"Sometimes, we just didn't have time to clean them. We had to operate on them immediately," she said.

When war broke out in Korea, she mobilized with the 4th Field Hospital, and participated in the Inchon Landing, according to her biography on armyheritage.org.

The 4th Field Hospital cared for more than 25,000 patients between September 1950 and July 1951, one night receiving 700 patients.

In July 1967 she was promoted to full colonel and, on Sept. 1, 1967, Hays was sworn in as the 13th chief of the Army Nurse Corps, a position she would hold until her retirement, her bio states.

During the Vietnam War, Hays traveled to Vietnam three times to assess the state of nursing there and oversaw formation of new training programs and a dramatic increase in the number of nurses deployed overseas, according to her bio.

After retiring on Aug. 31, 1971, Hays missed the Army.

"Well, I have to be very honest: One day being responsible to the surgeon general for 21,000 men and women, who represented one-fifth of the more than 103,000 Army Medical Department personnel, and then the next day, not having any responsibility, is quite an adjustment to make," she said in her bio.

"However, I think I did very well. All sorts of things kept me busy. I've missed the Army. I miss being part of a moving, dynamic situation," she said.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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