The Female Heroes of World War II

The scope of World War II as a historical event of mountainous magnitude is one that produced a myriad of heroes across many nationalities and journeys from both military and civilian backgrounds. The stories of their heroic acts are frequently told and it is important to keep the meaning of their acts alive. Also important are the accounts of the of the journeys of the unsung heroes of the war – namely women serving bravely throughout the events of World War II.

Jane Kendeigh

At the young age of 22 years old, on March 6, 1945, a Navy nurse named Jane Kendeigh made history by being the first U.S. Navy flight nurse to fly to a combative battlefield as part of an evacuation mission, as well as the first female nurse to make a flight landing on a Pacific battlefield. As part of her training as a flight nurse, she and many other flight nurses had trained in survival methods, crash procedures and adjusting medical treatments to the conditions found in high altitudes.

It is estimated that a total of almost 2,400 U.S. Marines and sailors who fought on Iwo Jima were evacuated by Kendeigh and other flight nurses who attended to the injured during flights as they made their way to operating hospitals. Iwo Jima was not the only campaign in which flight nurses showed distinguished heroism. Throughout World War II, out of over 1 million wounded who were evacuated in rescue missions, only 46 died en route to the hospitals.

Jane Kendeigh – he first Navy flight nurse on Iwo Jima (6 March 1945) and later Okinawa (6 April 1945) Image: BUMED Archives

Nancy Harkness Love

Nancy Harkness Love was the founder and commander of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) and the first female pilot in the U.S. Army. Having been a pilot prior to the war, gaining her pilot’s license at the young age of 16, Love used her experience to convince the U.S. Army Air Forces to create WAFS which would see activity under her direct command. This Auxiliary Squadron was composed of many female pilots, conducting transport missions of supplies from factories to air bases, freeing up more male pilots to fight on the fronts. Following the end of the war, Love was given the Air Medal given in recognition of acts of heroism and achievements during aerial operations. In 1958 the decision was made to promote Love to the rank of Lt. Col. And given the position of Lt. Col. of the Air Force Reserves.

Nancy Harkness Love – the founder and commander of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) and the first female pilot in the U.S. Image: AP

Susan Ahn Cuddy

As a citizen of Korean heritage, service in the U.S. Military was a personal matter. Cuddy’s father was killed by Japanese forces during a visit to Seoul in 1937 because of his outspoken criticisms of the Japanese occupation of Korea. 4 years later, the Japanese enacted their famous surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, which was the final push for Cuddy and her 2 brothers to join the U.S. Military. For Cuddy, the years following the attack on Pearl Harbor meant frequent discrimination as a woman and Asian American living in the United States. Cuddy did not let these conditions discourage her as she applied to the WAVES program. After being rejected the first time, she decided to persevere and applied again and this time she was accepted and made history in becoming the first Asian American Woman to join the ranks of the U.S. Navy.

Cuddy was assigned the role of Link Trainer in the Navy, otherwise known as “Pilot Trainer” which involved the instruction of pilots while making the use of flight simulators. As part of her role she also instructed Navy pilots in air combat tactics. After her role as a link trainer, Cuddy moved on to become the first female Gunnery Officer in the Navy, instructing naval aviators on how to fire a .50 caliber machine gun. Cuddy’s service did not end when she retired from the Navy, the distinguished servicewoman would later work for the U.S. Naval Intelligence and eventually the National Security Agency. Cuddy passed away in 2015 at the accomplished age of 100 years old.

Susan Ahn Cuddy – the first Asian American female officer in the U.S. navy. Image: AP