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Native American Nurses

Army Nurse Corps History Home > Army Nurse Corps Historical Documentation > Army Nurse Corps Newsletter Historical Articles

ANSWERING THE CALL TO DUTY:
 NATIVE AMERICAN NURSES

The people of the United States recognize the month of November as American Indian Heritage Month. Recently, President George W. Bush stated, "The strength of our Nation comes from its people. As the early inhabitants of this land, the native peoples of North America played a unique role in the shaping of our Nation's history and culture." During this month, we are reminded that there is a great deal to learn about the history and heritage of the Native American peoples of our nation. Native American veterans have served and continue to serve their country with pride. Many have heard about Ira Hayes, a Pima Indian, who was one of the men to raise the flag on Iwo Jima, or have seen the recent movie illustrating the story of the Navajo code talkers utilized during WWII. Likewise, Native American nurses have served their nation with honor within the Army Nurse Corps.

As early as the Spanish-American War, Native Americans contributed to the defense of their country. In 1898, it is historically documented that four Native American Catholic Sisters from Fort Berthold, South Dakota worked as nurses for the War Department. These nurses began their work at a military hospital in Jacksonville, Florida but were soon transferred to Havana, Cuba. Sister Mary Anthony, one of these four women, died of complications related to Tuberculosis and is buried in Cuba. These nurses were awarded the Cross of the Order of Spanish-American War Nurses for bravery and heroism in the hospital and on the field while ministering to the wants of the soldiers in the Spanish-American War.

Two nurses, On the Right, First Lieutenant Julia Nashannay Reeves

(On the Right) First Lieutenant Julia Nashannay Reeves

In a comparable spirited manner, Julia Helen Nashannay Reeves served in the Army Nurse Corps. On a scholarship provided by the Daughters of the American Revolution, Ms. Nashannay Reeves, a member of the Potawatomie Indian Tribe of Crandon, Wisconsin, completed her nursing training at the Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In January 1942, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Ms. Nashannany Reeves joined the Army Nurse Corps as a 2nd Lieutenant. She was assigned to the 52nd Evacuation Hospital in New Caledonia. The 52nd was one of the first hospitals activated at the onset of WWII. The unit left in such a hurry that many of the staff were without uniforms or had been issued the incorrect uniforms. The Red Cross on the journey through the Panama Canal supplied the nurses attached to the hospital with summer clothes. Prior to the invasion of Normandy, Julia served several weeks' temporary duty on the hospital ship Solace. In 1943, she was transferred to England where she served with the 23rd Station Hospital in Norwich. Julia served through V-J Day.

Upon return to the United States, Julia was honorably discharged. She attended Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts where she studied Public Health Nursing utilizing the GI bill. During the Korean War, Ms. Nashannay returned to active duty and served with the 804th Station Hospital that operated at a hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan. Here she met and married Joseph Reeves, a military officer. She was discharged as a first lieutenant. Ms. Nashannay Reeves supported her husband through his military career. They raised four children and retired in the Suffolk, Virginia area. Julia Helen Nashannay Reeves died on the 9th of May 1998 at her home in Suffolk. Her husband recalls that at one time, Julia received an eagle feather from the Potawatomie Indian Tribe as recognition of her service as a warrior for her nation.

These are just two brief historical examples of contributions that Native American Army Nurse Corps officers have made. Certainly, countless more documented stories of Native American nurse patriotism and self-less service exist. The Army Nurse Corps Historical Collection has other information and pictures regarding the service of Native American Nurses within the Corps. LTC (Ret) Brenda Finnicum, a former Army Nurse Corps Officer and a Native American, has completed significant research on Native American nurses. Since her retirement she has continued her documentation and research of American Indian women in the military. LTC (Ret) Finnicum has contributed multiple publications and presentations on this subject.

From the Spanish American War to the current War on Terrorism, Native American people have contributed to our nations defense as members of the Army Nurse Corps. Taking the time to learn about the unique legacy of the Native American Nurse benefits all Army Nurse Corps Officers. The Army Nurse Corps draws strength from its members just as our nation's strength comes from its people. Army Nurses: Ready, Caring, Proud!

Historical Data located at the Army Nurse Corps Collection, United States Army, Office of Medical History, Office of the Surgeon General, Falls Church, VA.