The first woman to be named a general in the U.S. military, former front-line nurse Anna Mae Hays, died of a heart attack on Monday in Washington, D.C., at the age of 97.
General Hays, the daughter of Salvation Army officers, had been passionate about nursing since she was a child, when she would practice tying bandages onto broken chair legs. After graduating the Allentown Hospital School of Nursing in 1941, and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor later that year, she enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps where she began her distinguished 30-year career helping doctors amputate gangrenous limbs at a military base in the jungle near Assam, India. Already a first lieutenant by the end of the Second World War, she re-enlisted and was re-deployed in Korea, where she later said conditions were “even worse than the jungle” due to “lack of supplies, lack of warmth in the operating room.”
After the Korean war, she met her husband, William A. Hays, a director of workshops for disabled people. They enjoyed six years of marriage, before his death in 1962. After being named chief of the Army Nurse Corps in 1967, she served again, this time in Vietnam, where she was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal and the Legion of Merit. She was named a brigadier general in 1970, in a ceremony where Eisenhower’s wife, Mamie, presented her with the stars Eisenhower himself received upon becoming a brigadier general. Hays had previously treated Eisenhower in a hospital in 1956. In 2013, Hays said that she hoped to be remembered not only “as the first woman general, but as a very honest person, as a kind individual who did her best — and succeeded.”
Read the full obituary at The New York Times.