Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Geraldine Dishroon: In a Class By Herself

The logistics of war can be convoluted, and despite the fact that intensive study and thought goes into the plans, some aspects can be overlooked. This seems to be what occurred with regard to the evacuation of the tens of thousands of wounded US soldiers as well as those suffering from the exotic diseases associated with duty overseas. Ground transportation wasn’t always available or feasible because of the terrain in such places as Alaska, Burma, and New Guinea.

However, it would be nearly a year after the attack at Pearl Harbor that the problem was remedied. “The decision to employ nurses for flight duty, first had to overcome opposition from high-ranking officials in the army—the branch of service from which the flight nurses would be selected—who, even before America’s entrance into the war, anticipated a resulting shortage of nurses available for other kinds of work.” (Beyond the Call of Duty, 1) Finally, on November 30, 1942, military leaders came to agreement and the air surgeon of the Army Air Forces put out an appeal for nurses to volunteer for air evacuation duty.

Training for the nurses occurred at Bowman Field (Kentucky), the first commercial airport in the US, founded by Abram H. Bowman who became interested in aviation during WWI. TWA and Eastern airlines called the airport home until the Second World War when the facility became known as “Air Base City.” Over 1,600 bomber squadron recruits underwent basic training in ninety days. The school for flight surgeons, medical technicians, and flight nurses also took up residence.

With a final rating of 96.5, Second Lieutenant Geraldine “Jerry” Dishroon was the first class’s honor
Photo: Library of Congress
graduate, and as such went through the line first to receive her diploma. A story that has become legend and regularly repeated is that Brigadier General Fred S. Borum realized as Jerry stepped forward that no one had thought of an insignia for the nurses and unpinned his miniature flight surgeon’s insignia and pinned it onto Jerry, noting that future nurses would receive something similar with an N superimposed on the wings. However, according to Grace Dunnam, Jerry’s chief nurse, indicated that “Jerry just happened to be standing there when Grant decided to present his wings to a flight nurse.” However, the incident actually occurred, it was no doubt a highlight to the event for everyone.

In addition to being in top physical condition, nurses learned crash procedures, survival training, and the effects of high altitude on wounds. By July 1943, Jerry would be serving with the 806 Medical Air Evacuation Squadron in England. Because the aircraft used for evacuation also carry military supplies, they were not allowed to display the Red Cross which would have indicated their non-combat status. Because of the lack of markings, they were vulnerable to enemy attacks. Later in an interview, Jerry said, “We were just another airplane. We were an open target.)

Nonetheless, twenty-eight-year-old Jerry raised her hand to volunteer to serve at Normandy, and on D+6 in June 1944, she was part of the first air evacuation team to land on Omaha Beach after the invasion at Normandy. A massive aircraft, the C-47 was typically used as a cargo transport to fly over the “Hump” (the Himalayas) as well as carrying paratroops and towing gliders. Because of its size, the C-47 was one of the main aircraft used to transport the wounded out of the field. Each plane carried twenty-four ambulatory patients, eighteen to twenty litter patients, or a combination thereof, and one nurse.

Nat'l WWII Museum
Throughout the summer, each nurse made two or three trips per day to recover the wounded, and records indicate an astonishing 20,000 patients being airlifted in just three months. According to Jerry, “We picked them up right on the beachhead. We were getting patients who had been wounded not thirty minutes before.” By war’s end she’d earned three air medals. Discharged in September 1945, she married Lt. Colonel William Brier and had five sons. After his retirement, she took a refresher course in nursing and worked in ICU in addition to volunteer work with the Red Cross and other organizations. She passed away in 2002 in Cheyenne, WY.

I love to fly, but I'm not sure I'd volunteer to evacuate wounded. How about you?


The Mechanic & The MD

All’s fair in love and war. Or so they say.

High school and college were a nightmare for Doris Strealer and being an adult isn’t much better. Men won’t date a woman of her height, and they don’t understand her desire to repair car engines rather than work as a nurse or a teacher. When her father’s garage closes, and no one will hire a female mechanic, she joins the Red Cross Motor Corps, finally feeling at home. Until she comes face to face with her past in the form of Ronald McCann, the most popular boy in school.

On the brink of a successful career as a surgeon, Ron’s plans crumble when he’s drafted and assigned to an evacuation hospital in England, the last place he expects to run into a former schoolmate. The gangly tomboy who was four years behind him in high school has transformed into a statuesque beauty, but a broken engagement in college leaves him with no desire to risk his heart ever again.

Will the hazards of war make or break the romance between this unlikely couple?

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Linda Shenton Matchett writes about ordinary people who did extraordinary things in days gone by. A volunteer docent and archivist for the Wright Museum of WWII, Linda is a former trustee for her local public library. She is a native of Baltimore, Maryland and was born a stone’s throw from Fort McHenry (of Star Spangled Banner fame). Linda has lived in historic places all her life, and is now located in central New Hampshire where her favorite activities include exploring historic sites and immersing herself in the imaginary worlds created by other authors. Learn more about Linda and her books at http://www.LindaShentonMatchett.com


  1. Thank you for this post today. Nurses are an amazing group of people in a noble profession, and their dedication to serving patients within the military forces does take them in harm's way. I pray for God's hand of protection for them!

  2. I loved learning that training for the nurses occurred at Bowman Field (Kentucky) and also that it was the first commercial airport in the US. I've lived in Kentucky all of my life and never knew this! This is why I enjoy this blog so much.