Ensign Jane Kendeigh, Navy Flight Nurse WWII – What You Don’t Know

There are always little pieces of history, small events and particular stories, that get lost when great historical events are recorded in the history books. This is one of them. It is about a particular Navy nurse by the name of Ensign Jane Kendeigh. This is her story.

Jane Kedeigh was born in Ohio and went to nursing school in Cleveland. Little did she know that when she joined the United States Navy's new School of Air Evacuation that she would eventually become a footnote, albeit an important footnote, in the history of WWII. The school of Air Evacuation's first class was made up of 24 Pharmacist Mates (Hospital Corpsmen) and 24 nurses. They were trained to meet medical crises such as crash procedures and battlefield survival and how to care for patients in the different conditions that presented at high altitudes. The details here are important too. The Hospital Corpsmen were all male, and the nurses were all female, but they were all being trained for conditions that could include battlefield possibilities.

When Ensign Kendeigh graduated from the Air Evacuation School, she was assigned to the Naval Air Transport Service in the Pacific. This is where her story takes on the mantle of history for her, for women, and for the United States Navy.

On the 6th of March, 1945, in the middle of the bloody battle for Iwo Jima, Ensign Kendeigh would do something that had never been done before. She landed on Iwo Jima to set up basic medical facilities to care for the wounded. In doing so, she became the first female flight nurse to land on the beach during an ongoing battle. She would remain there with other flight nurses until the 21st of March. While on the island over those 15 days during the battle, she and her fellow flight nurses and Corpsmen would care for and evacuate some 2,393 wounded Marines and Corpsmen.

Kendeigh would go home to the U.S. briefly after leaving Iwo Jima to participate in a War Bond Drive but would just as quickly be ordered back to the Pacific, where she became the first flight nurse to arrive on Okinawa during that bloody campaign. She arrived on Okinawa on the 7th of April, 1945, just six days into the battle. She remembered men whistling seeing a woman in a combat area. The battle would go on until the 22nd of June, 1945, and was considered one of the hardest-fought battles in the history of the U. S. Military. A reporter asked her once if she was scared during these situations. She gave a simple answer, one that many who have been in combat situations would recognize: "While we were on the island, I was too busy working on patients to be afraid."

Over the course of WWII, U.S. Navy Flight Nurses would treat and evacuate 1,176,048 wounded Marines and other military personnel. Kendeigh, a humble individual by nature, had not expected to become a part of history, but as the first female to land and care for the wounded in an active battlefield, both on Iwo Jima and Okinawa, she took her place in an important part of military history. She understood how important she was to the men that she and her fellow flight nurses in the Naval Air Transport Service cared for in those difficult circumstances. But for her, the rewards were simple. They took the form of "wan smiles, a slow nod of appreciation, a gesture, or a word." That was enough.

Jane Kendeigh died in San Diego, California, on July 19th, 1987, at the age of 65.

We honor the memory of Flight Nurse Ensign Jane Kendeigh in re-telling her story here. Such people and their selfless sacrifices while serving the nation in times of war must not be forgotten. It is with humble respect that we remember Jane Kendeigh, her fellow flight nurses, and all who served and sacrificed so much during WWII to protect and defend the fragile freedoms we all enjoy today. Rest in Peace, Ensign Jane Kendeigh. You did well.

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