During Women’s History Month, today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Army Veteran Elsie S. Ott, who served as a flying nurse during World War II.
Elsie S. Ott was born in Smithtown, New York, in 1913. After graduating high school, she attended Lenox Hill Hospital School of Nursing in New York City.
In September 1941, Ott joined the Army Nurse Corps. Later, she commissioned as a second lieutenant and had assignments in Louisiana, Virginia and India. During her assignment to Karachi, India, Ott participated in the first air evacuation, where crews evacuated patients to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C.
Before this assignment on Jan. 17, 1943, Ott had no previous flying experience. Nonetheless, she prepared essential items, like blankets, sheets and pillows for her patients during their flight. Despite the medical mission, the only equipment available was a first aid kit. Ott, a sergeant with a medical background and five wounded patients were the only ones aboard the mission.
Among the patients, two were paralyzed from the waist down, one had tuberculosis, another had glaucoma and the fifth was suffering from a manic-depressive psychosis episode. Usually, a trip from Karachi to Washington D.C. would take three months by ship. However, crews finished this mission about a week after it began.
After the mission, Ott began preparing notes for similar endeavors. She noted that an oxygen tank, wound dressing material, extra coffee and blankets were mandatory for future missions. She also noted that her required uniform was impractical, and she requested not to wear a skirt during these duties.
For this evacuation flight, Ott was the first woman in the U.S. Army to receivean Air Medal. Despite protests of women as nurses on these flights, in 1943, Gen. Davis N. Grant started the first training program for flight nurses at Bowman Army Airfield in Kentucky. Further, Congress unanimously passed the Cadet Nurse Corps Program, becoming effective on July 1, 1943.
Later, Ott returned to India with the 803rd Military Air Evacuation Squad. She promoted to captain before discharging in 1946. However, 20 years later, Ott was called back to debut the C-9 Nightingale, the new air ambulance for the Vietnam War.
Ott passed away in 2006.
We honor her service.
Do you want to light up the face of a special Veteran? Have you been wondering how to tell your Veteran they are special to you? VA’s #VeteranOfTheDay social media feature is an opportunity to highlight your Veteran and his/her service.
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Writer: Adrienne Brookstein
Editor: Rachel Falconer and Elissa Tatum
Fact checker: Ciara Nalda
Graphic artist: Helena Strohmier