On this day in 1942, a daughter of German immigrants enlists in the Army Nurse Corps. Aleda Lutz would become one of a handful of World War II nurses qualified to fly aboard troop transport planes.
She is widely believed to be the first American woman lost in combat during the war, yet Lt. Lutz’s legacy endures: She remains one of the most highly decorated women in U.S. military history, with many facilities and military vessels also named in her honor.
Aleda Lutz was born in Michigan in 1915, and she was working as a nurse at a local hospital when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The young nurse was among those who jumped to serve. She volunteered for the Army Nurse Corps and was commissioned a second lieutenant on February 10, 1942.
Lutz served stateside at first, but that wouldn’t last too long. Nurses who could pass the pilot’s physical were encouraged to serve as flight nurses overseas, and Lutz was among only a handful who could pass the test.
By the end of 1942, Lutz found herself promoted to first lieutenant and assigned to the 802nd Medial Air Evacuation Squadron, Army 12th Air Force.
Her life had been turned upside down over the course of a mere 12 months.
Lutz was immediately deployed overseas, and it seems likely that she received her training while on the job in a war zone. Her service would span European, African, and Italian battlefields as she accompanied air combat missions and medical evacuations.
“The missions on which Lieutenant Lutz flew were made in all kinds of weather, and often from fields barely wrested from enemy forces,” one Army publication concluded in 1945. “She had flown into the beachhead at Anzio, Italy, when the enemy was still shelling the Anzio fight strip.”
Lutz’s letters home give further insight into her experiences. She was alternately excited at her new adventures, bored by periods of inactivity, or amused by American soldiers who gave her too much attention. (Many hadn’t seen an American girl in months!) Sometimes, she attended a memorial, and it left her feeling down. Always, she faced challenges from lack of equipment, and she was forced to drum up quick solutions with limited materials aboard aircraft.
Meanwhile, her friends were back at home in the States, getting married and having babies. She wondered “how I will ever fit in the picture if I ever get home, everything seems so changed.”
Unfortunately, she never had the chance to find out. Instead, the brave nurse was killed on November 1, 1944, as she attempted to help evacuate soldiers from Lyon, France, to a hospital in Italy. Her medevac flight crashed into the side of a mountain during poor weather. There were no survivors.
Before her passing, Lutz had served on 196 missions, and she had 814 flight hours under her belt. She’d helped to transport more than 3,500 patients to safety.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Lt. Lutz would become the first Army nurse to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross, posthumously. The award cited her “superior professional skill and courage” as well as her “selfless devotion to duty and outstanding proficiency.”
The outstanding courage of the Greatest Generation was demonstrated in so many different ways, wasn’t it? RIP, Lt. Lutz.
Aleda E. Lutz (Michigan Military and Veterans Hall of Honor website)
Aleda E. Lutz VA Medical Center, Saginaw, Michigan (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website)
Emory A. Massman, Hospital Ships of World War II (2015)
The Army Nurse magazine (June 1945) (Vol. 2, No. 6, page 3)