During Women’s History Month, today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Air Force Veteran Lillian K. Keil, who served in World War II and the Korean War.
Lillian K. Keil grew up impoverished and lived in a convent with her mother and brothers. Watching the nuns take care of the ill peaked her interest in nursing. After attending nursing school in San Francisco, Keil worked as a stewardess with United Airlines in 1938. At this time, because stewardesses were new to commercial aviation, many of them were nurses. On one of her flights, a passenger suggested that Keil join the war effort as a flight nurse. She immediately took to the idea and was accepted into the Army Air Forces.
Flight nurses were introduced in World War II. Keil was one of the first graduates of the Army Air Forces School of Air Evacuation at Bowman Field in Louisville, Kentucky. The course was rigorous, and she learned skills such as how to slide on her stomach under a live wire and how to swim under ignited gasoline.
Keil deployed to England in the summer of 1943, and she later served at Omaha Beach after the D-Day invasion. She was also part of the team assigned to aid Gen. Patton’s Third Army in France. Keil made 250 evacuation flights during World War II and flew into combat zones. While on aircraft carrying military supplies, they were subject to enemy fire as they did not display the Red Cross markings.
At the end of World War II, she returned to United Airlines. When the war in Korea started, she reenlisted, joining the newly formed Air Force. During this war, she flew another 175 evacuation flights. Keil was one of 30 Air Force flight nurses during the Korean War.
In World War II and the Korean War, Keil served in 11 significant campaigns, including the Battle of the Bulge and the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. She flew 425 evacuation flights, and many of these were while receiving enemy fire. It is believed she cared for over 10,000 injured servicemen during her military career.
In 1954, she married Walter Keil, a Naval intelligence officer who served in World War II. She became pregnant the next year and received an honorable discharge at the rank of captain, but remained active in a number of Veteran causes throughout her life.
After returning home, the couple settled in Covina, California, where Keil worked as an emergency room nurse. In 1953, a movie, “Flight Nurse,” was based largely on Keil’s experiences during the Korean War, and she served as a technical advisor to the film.
Keil earned numerous medals and ribbons, including four Air Medals, a European Theater Medal with four Battle Stars, a Korean Service Medal with seven Battle Stars and a Presidential Citation from the Republic of Korea.
Keil passed away in 2005 at the age of 88.
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.
It’s easy to nominate a Veteran. Visit our blog post about nominating to learn how to create the best submission.
Writer: Michael Veronda
Editors: Julia Pack and Christopher Wilson
Fact checker: Ciara Nalda
Graphic artist: Roni Ruadap