This Wednesday marks the 75th anniversary of the Japanese Empire’s deadly attacks on military installations in and around Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu, Hawaii.
Early Sunday morning, Dec. 7, 1941, aircraft carrier-based Japanese forces attacked in force. Their primary target was Pearl Harbor, where they hoped to destroy or disable every war ship in the area, including three U.S. aircraft carriers.
They accomplished part of their mission by damaging six battleships and destroying two others. They also damaged three cruisers and three destroyers. They hit U.S. aircraft hard, too, destroying 169 planes and damaging 159 more. How-ever, they struck out on the aircraft carriers, because none were there.
Still, it was a stunning victory for Japan, and an ignominious defeat for the United States of America. The U.S. suffered 3,581 total casualties, including 2,403 killed and another 1,178 wounded. The Navy bore the brunt of the attack, with 2,008 sailors killed and 710 wounded.
The Army was second, with 218 KIA and 364 WIA. The Marines were third, with 109 KIA and 69 WIA. Total U.S. civilian casualties were 103, including 68 killed and 35 wounded.
The horrors of Pearl Harbor have long been chronicled in articles, books and movies. So have the heroic acts of many in the military, who were caught in the crosshairs of Japanese gunsights.
Not so well known are the horrors endured and the heroism displayed by a small band of Army and Navy nurses during and after the Japanese assaults. Two women personify the selfless service, willing sacrifice and heroic grace under fire so amply shown by military nurses on that fateful day and beyond.
At Schofield Barracks Station Hospital, Army nurse 2nd Lt. Mildred Clark saw the Japanese pilots flying so close she could hear radio transmissions between them. She raced to the hospital, where she moved tirelessly among the patients, administering anesthesia, plasma, IV fluids, and medications. Later in her career, Clark would become the 12th director of the Army Nurse Corps.
At Pearl Harbor, Navy Nurse Lt. Ruth Erickson heard Japanese planes roaring overhead. She dashed from her quarters through shards of shrapnel and smoky haze to do her duty at Naval Hospital Pearl Harbor. By 8: 25 a.m., all battle stations, wards, and operating rooms were fully functioning. Some wounded sailors were brought in by navy launches. Others swam and crawled in for treatment. “How they ever managed, I’ll never know," said Erickson. Later in her career, Erickson would become the 10th director of the Navy Nurse Corps.
Mildred Clark died in 1994; Ruth Erickson in 2008. Most of their peers are gone, too. However, their legacy of quiet heroism and patriotic public service lives on in the hearts and minds of American nurses, military and civilian. For that, the Pearl Harbor nurses deserve to be remembered and honored by a grateful nation.
Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at email@example.com.