Monday, September 22, 2014

Part One - Air Evacuation and The Nurse

The original idea of air evacuation of the sick and wounded by military air transport is rooted in the period when the Wright Brothers developed the airplane.  The first known report of aircraft to be used in the transportation of patients was made by Capt. George H.R. Gosman and Lt. A.L. Rhoades, US Army, to the Surgeon General of the Army in 1910.  These officers had constructed an ambulance plane to be used in the transport of patients at Fort Barracas, Florida.  They were the first to point out the great possibilities of the airplane for evacuation of sick and wounded.  In Feb. 1918, Maj. Nelson E. Driver and Capt. William C. Ocker converted a "Jenny" airplane that was turned into an airplane ambulance by changing the rear cockpit so that a special type litter with a patient could be accommodated.  They are credited with the first transportation of patients in an airplane in the U.S. and aiding in demonstrating the practicability of transporting patients by air.

In 1921, the Army made a request for Curtis Eagle airplanes which could accommodate four litters and six sitting patients.  Unfortunately for the progress of aerial evacuation, this advanced airplane ambulance crashed while flying in a sever electrical storm.  This untimely crash played an important part in delaying the development of aerial transportation of patients in the U.S.

There were many changes and improvements to airplanes to enable them to carry more patients and medical personal.  Then in 1940, Headquarters AAF proposed the organization of an ambulance battalion to consist of an AT Group together with medical personnel.  The Medical Air Ambulance Squadron was authorized in Nov. 19, 1941, calling a group composed of one headquarters squadron and three airplane medical squadrons which, "would lighten and speed the task of transporting casualties due to the extreme mobility and would be able to render service at a time and place where other means of transportation are at a minimum."

Within three months, the country was at war, and it became a matter of military necessity to evacuate patients by air, even though it was not an accepted practice.  The first mass movement of patients occurred in Jan. 1942, during the construction of the Alcan Route to Alaska.  C-47 type aircraft were utilized in evacuating these patients over long distance to medical installations.  The medical personnel involved were largely untrained and on a voluntary basis.

In May 1942, the Buna-Gona Campaign marked the beginning of a counter-attack against the Japanese in New Guinea.  Many days of travel would be required to evacuate patients by surface means;  but by air, it was a flight of approximately 1 hour over the Owen-Stanley Range.  A total of 1,300 sick and wounded Allied trips were flown over this route during the first 10 days.

In June 1942, the 804th MAES (Medical Air Evacuation Squadron) arrived in New Guinea to aid in the air evac operations.  In late August 1942, Marine Air Transport and the AAF Troop Carrier Transport units began to evacuate patients from Guadalcanal.  12,000 casualties had been evacuated by air by the end of 1942.

The first flights had not medical staff, then flights were staffed with one surgeon and one male nurse.  The flight nurse emerged as the counterpart of the flight surgeon.  Laurette M. Schimmoler, who as early as 1932 envisioned the Aerial Nurse Corps of America is credited with the idea.  She suggested an organization composed of physically qualified and technically trained registered nurses, who would be available for duty in "air ambulances" as well as other aerial assignments.  Miss Schimmoler exchanged many letters with Gen. "Hap" Arnold, then Chief of the Air Corps.  In her letters she sought recognition of her organization.  General Arnold advised her to coordinate her project with the Red Cross.  She replied that she had contacted the Red Cross in previous years, and the personnel in that office were not air minded and could not see the need for nurses to be so educated.  The Red Cross stayed to that way of thinking until 1940.  By then, the activities of the Aerial Nurse Corps, had been publicized and many inquiries were being directed to the Army Nurse Corp and the Red Cross.   From the Red Cross the inquiries were answered with an attitude of opposition to the organization and a lack of imaginative foresight concerning the possibility of the future use of the airplane in the evacuation of the wounded.

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