During WWII, more than 500 U.S. military women lost their lives while serving their country. Our friends at Stories Behind the Stars are compiling their stories, and we’d like to share just a few.
Aleda E. Lutz was the first American woman to die in combat during WWII. Lutz enlisted in the Army Air Forces Nurse Corp on February 10, 1942. She served in the 802nd Medical Air Evacuation Squadron and was part of a highly classified unit that used unmarked C-47 cargo planes to fly to the battlefront with supplies and return with the wounded. On November 1, 1944, 28-year-old Lutz was flying on a Medevac C-47 with nine wounded American soldiers and six wounded German POWs from Lyon, France, to a hospital in Italy. The pilot lost control in a violent storm, and the plane crashed near Saint-Chamond, France. There were no survivors. At the time of her death, Lutz had the most evacuation sorties (196), the most combat hours flown by a flight nurse (814), and the most patients transported by any flight nurse (3,500). Lutz was the recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross, the first given to an Army Nurse in WWII. She was also honored with the Air Medal with 4 Oak Leaf Clusters and a Purple Heart, in addition to other commendations. The Aleda E. Lutz Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center was named after her by Congressional decree.
Cornelia C. Fort was a young civilian flight instructor from Tennessee. On the morning of December 7, 1941, she took off from John Rodgers Airport in Honolulu with a student. Fort noticed a military plane approaching from the sea. Suddenly, she realized that the plane was headed straight towards her on a collision course. Fort wrenched the controls from her student and managed to pull up just in time to avoid a collision. Just then, she noticed the red sun symbol on the plane and saw smoke rising over Pearl Harbor. Fort had just witnessed American’s entry into WWII. The following year, Fort joined the newly established Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Service (WAFs). She was thrilled to join the war effort and flew planes from factories to military airbases. Her work freed up male pilots for combat missions. On March 21, 1943, Fort was ferrying an airplane to Love Field in Dallas when another male pilot’s landing gear clipped her plane, sending it plummeting to earth. Fort died on impact. She was one of 38 female pilots who died flying military airplanes during the war.
Blanche F. Sigman was working as a public health nurse in Brooklyn when she enlisted in United States Army Nurses Corps in 1942. She was assigned to the 95th Evacuation Hospital as a Chief Nurse. On September 13, 1943, Sigman was serving aboard the hospital ship for the Eighth Army, the HMHS Newfoundland, in the Gulf of Salerno, Italy, when German planes bombed the ship. She survived the attack and went on to serve in Italy during the Anzio campaign. Along with some 200 nurses, and while being bombarded, Sigman cared for 33,000 patients at Anzio. On February 7, 1944, a Luftwaffe pilot fleeing from a British fighter dropped a load of bombs on the hospital where Sigman was caring for the wounded. Sigman died in the attack. Fellow soldiers temporarily interred her body on the Anzio beachhead next to her patients. In 1948 she was reinterred in her hometown of Byesville, Ohio. A US Army Hospital Ship was named the Blanche Faye Sigman in her honor.
To see more stories of heroic women who lost their lives while serving during WWII, click here. These stories have been compiled by volunteers dedicated to telling the story of every fallen WWII soldier. If you would like to get involved, visit the Stories Behind the Stars website here. To learn more about WWII, search our complete collection of WWII records on Fold3® today!
According to your narrative, Lutz did not die in combat. That sentence needs to be corrected. Try ” in a combat zone”
She gave her life in service of her country.
Such semantics! Technically, one could say she died in combat. She was working and fighting against the Germans in a combat zone to save soldiers’ lives. Some of which could go back to combat service. She would also have been defending against the enemy to preserve her own life as well.
You and Donald Hall need to brush up on your terms! “Technically, one could say she died in combat. “??? Lutz was not a pilot, so Distinguished Flying Cross should NOT have been a part of the narrative. If shot down, “Died as a result of Enemy Fire” would have been appropriate not “Died in Combat”. If brought down by weather or pilot error, “While conducting medical evacuations” would be fine just as “Died as a result of enemy attack”. Even though it has been 50 years since I was in a combat zone as a Navy Corpsman, the wording of such situation might vary, but they amount to the same as I stated. They all died in support of the mission at hand and should be honored respectfully and not nitpicked by amateurs ! Now I am going to get out of this roundabout lunacy!
@Gene A. Smith: No, Gene, he’s right here. “died in combat” is generally accepted to mean to have died form the result of hostile fire. It’s why 1LT Sharon Lane is the only woman in the Vietnam War who “died in combat”–she was killed by a 155mm rocket when it struck the 312th Evacuation Hospital. The other seven military women (as someone else pointed out, there were a large number of US civilian women who died in the combat zone in Vietnam) died of disease, aircraft accidents, or vehicle crashes.
And it’s not something that is aimed at her because she’s a woman–believe me, there are scores of discussions regarding men who served, and whether they served “in combat” or not.
But it doesn’t diminish from her service in any way.
Shut up and sit down
Sigmann blev da dræbt under krigen, men i skriver ” geninteresseret”….hvad det så end er ? su venligst.
Re-interred refers to Blanche Sigman being taken from the grave that she was originally interred (buried) in Italy and reburied (Re-interred) in her hometown in Ohio. Lost in translation I guess from Danish.
It means her body was reburied in a different location.
To be more specific, at the end of World War II, family members were offered the choice of leaving the remains of their fallen relatives in Europe or having them returned to the United States for burial. Those that were buried it the smaller, temporary cemeteries constructed during the Allied advance were consolidated in larger, more formal cemeteries administered to this day by the American Battle Monuments Commission, just as was done following World War I, if their remains were not returned to the US. So virtually everyone who was a US casualty was reinterred at some point.
The American Battle Monuments Commission website is here: https://www.abmc.gov/
How could Lutz have been the first to die, on November 1, 1944, when both Fort’s and Sigman’s dates preceded that date?
It appears Lutz did not die “in combat” or due to combat since the plane she was on went down because the pilot lost control during a storm. I think the problem is with wording of the article. I agree with George Purvis; combat zone would be more correct. Fort died in Dallas Tx due to her plane being clipped by another plane 3-21-43. Sigman died 2-7-44 as the result of an actual bombing.
Miss Fort died in 1943 and Miss Sigman died in 1944.
To what hospital in Italy was Lutz taking the patients to?
FYI, nurses had been flying on C-47s and other troop carrier transports for at least a year before Lutz’ death. The first air evac missions were flown in New Guinea during the battle for Buna, although I don’t think female nurses were involved. The Army Air Forces set up an air evacuation school at Bowman Field, Kentucky to train flight nurses and medical technicians. I came across an account of a nurse being shot down on a C-47 and becoming a POW. A group of nurses from Corregidor became prisoners of the Japanese after the PBY they were being flown to Australia in struck a rock at Mindanao and the crew took off without them. A B-24 was sent to rescue them but was unable to land. They were interned in Santo Thomas internment camp. As for Cornelia Fort, she was not a member of the military. She was a civilian contractor. She died in a crash from a midair with another ferry pilot. They were apparently horsing around and their airplanes collided. I seriously doubt the 500 figure given in the article. It was probably more like 50 and none of them died in combat except, perhaps, a nurse or two who were shot down on C-47s.
And what branch of the military did you belong to Sam? What combat zones did you fight in?
Answer @Donna question, you said you doubt the 500 figure.
Well, six Army nurses were killed at Anzio, and another six were killed in a kamikaze attack on the Army Hospital Transport “Comfort” on 28 April 1945, and there were four others killed in action as well, so that pretty much blows your theory all to hell . . .
According to Highlights in the History of the Army Nurse Corps:
“In World War II, 201 Army nurses died, 16 as a result of enemy action. More than sixteen hundred nurses were decorated for meritorious service and bravery under fire. Decorations included the Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Soldier’s Medal, Bronze Star Medal, Air Medal, Legion of Merit, Army Commendation Medal, and the Purple Heart.”
Those figures likely include the two you speculate were killed in C-47 crashes, since the next paragraph states:
“Five hospital ships and one general hospital used during the war were named after Army nurses who lost their lives in service during World War II. Army nurses served at station and general hospitals throughout the continental United States. Overseas, they were assigned to hospital ships, flying ambulances, and hospital trains; to clearing stations; and to field, evacuation, and general hospitals. They served on beachheads from North Africa to Normandy and Anzio, in the Aleutians, Wales, Australia, Trinidad, India, Ireland, England, the Solomons, Newfoundland, Guam, Hawaii, New Guinea, New Caledonia, Puerto Rico, Panama, Iceland, Bataan, and Corregidor-wherever the American soldier could be found. They traveled in close support of the fighting men, endured relentless bombing and strafing on land, torpedoing at sea, and antiaircraft fire while evacuating the wounded by air. In Europe, during the major battle offensives, Army nurses assisted in developing the concept of recovery wards for immediate postoperative nursing care of patients. The flight nurses helped to establish the incredible record of only five deaths in flight per 100,000 patients transported.”
And, of course, the Army hadn’t kicked the Army Air Forces out yet.
Hope that helps set the record straight.
Sam McGowan. You said much with “I don’t think”! As for the “Horsing around” comment, well we just learned what end of the horse that came from! Whether from storms or dodging enemy threats in the air or from the ground. Eight military and 59 civilian women died in Vietnam from bullets, mines bombs, murder and perhaps disease so 500 WWII deaths is well within reason, except for those with such an attitude toward women as you’ve displayed, unless you just expected them to just get up and walk off the movie set! The manner that some got into such circumstances is not up for debate. This page was set up to HONOR women who died in service to our country, (if you are one of us). I am proud of the Marines I serve with there as a Navy Man! Still these women don’t deserve to be treated like returning Vietnam veterans that include all 67 women who died there, regardless of their circumstances! That information belongs in their Family Trees!
I should have pointed out in my previous point that the 201 Army Nurses who died in service including 16 who died from enemy action are from the Army only; it doesn’t include Navy numbers. I’m not challenging teh 500 overall figure.
So typical of a man worried that a woman may get more honor. Suck it up buttercup.
Man it’s embarrassing to me. Your comments still show the sexist negative bias towards women who served and “DIED” for our country . I would say having a load of bombs dropped on your hospital and killing you pretty much wualifies as a combat kill . I’m A conservative, and served in on of the more elite counter terror units as a corpsman . I nearly died for this nation many times . These women are heroes in my book .
It should also be mentioned that the field hospital must have been covered with red crosses on a white background. Bombing a hospital qualifies as a war crime.
As a conservative, I don’t see any sexist, negative comments being made. If you think corrections to incorrect information is sexist or negative then you must not value the truth. These women were all heroes and died during wartime because of the jobs they were doing to help the war effort. Just because they all did not die as a result of actual combat related injuries does not take away from their sacrifice. Men that died from running a jeep off a bridge or hitting a tree because they had too much Vino were not considered combat deaths but they were still in combat zones. The same designation would apply if a female nurse or pilot did the same thing.
OOOHHHRRRAAAHHH!!!!! Right on! Edith Adams . You go Squids.
@ Mike: According to the Geneva conventions, it only qualifies as a war crime if they were aiming at the hospital when they hit it, and if it was marked. You can’t make an assumption about either. A commander can order a hospital to remove its Geneva Crosses for operational reasons; a rear area can be crowded, as it was at Anzio, or the ability to hit what was being aimed at could be poor (as it was in World War II).
Now, I’m not condoning bombing hospitals–I spent 30 years in the Army working in and around them–just saying that you can’t automatically assume that when one gets bombed or shelled it’s an automatic war crime
I remember a nurse I worked with 40 years ago telling us about her service in a Parisian (clearly marked) military hospital. They were used to air raids and hoped the red crosses on the roof would protect them. One night they heard a falling bomb that sounded “different” and knew it was directly overhead! It rattled across roof tiles and into the cobblestone street below – it was a dud!! She figured her number wasn’t up yet . . .
No matter how or when they died they are still heroes to me. I really hate it when the topic of their sacrifice is tainted by negative comments as to how it is reported.
IMO, regardless of the circumstances, those who served are patriots and those who made the ultimate sacrifice, heroes.
Lea Schneider, who wrote the story about Aleda Lutz, and created the “Women Who Lost Their Lives in World War II – Stories” Fold3 page has written more than 100 great stories with more being added on a regular basis.
Regardless of how these women died, they did so in service to their country. Even if they died in a car accident, they would probably have still been alive had they been home doing what society dictated was proper for a young woman to do at the time. Their families still received a telegram saying their daughter or sister was dead, spending the rest of their lives trying to come to terms with their unimaginable loss. These women still woke up one day and signed the dotted line, saying they were willing to go the extra mile (that very few women did), knowing just by doing so put them in a greater amount of danger. Many of them decided to dedicate their lives to trying to save the lives of others. They put others’ needs above their own. If this is not worthy of honor or recognition, I do not know what is.
[…] By Jenny Ashcraft, Fold 3 HQ: Women Who Lost Their Lives During WWII Fold 3 HQ: Stories of Women Who Lost Their Lives in World War II […]
Wow….I cannot believe the picky negativity of some of the comments going on here.
These heroes lost their lives serving this country and that’s all that matters…you should simply respect that and be thankful for it.
Now go “get a life”!
“ except, perhaps, a nurse or two who were shot down on C-47s.”……a nurse or two, one or two , doesn’t matter ?…you make them sound like a couple of potatoes falling off a truck ….no respect.
According to The National WWII Museum, some 358,074 women served in the US military during WWII. (Of course, the credit for military service for many of these women, including the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots and its coalescent predecessors, the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron and Women’s Flying Training Detachment, did not receive veteran military status until 1977.) WASPs accounted for 1,074 of the women in WWII military service. Thirty-eight WASP members died in performance of their service.
Cornelia Fort was among the first 25 women accepted into the WAF in September 1942. Reports indicate that she had accumulated far more than the 500 flight hours required to be accepted into the program. Frank E. Stamme, Jr. was among a the male pilots who joined the group of WAF pilot to fly transports on 21 March 1943. His log shows that he had 250 flight hours at the time of the collision. She was the more experienced pilot of the two. Published reports differ on whether Fort’s aircraft came up under his landing gear or whether he had been seen approaching and hitting her wing. For safety purposes, formation flying was not sanctioned, and they should not have been flying so closely.
Many men of the time heard the call to service and immediately volunteered. That women like Cornelia Fort joined together to create a means of serving the country during the war shows their patriotism. That they did so with talent and skills previously recognized as “male only” shows their creativity and valor.
“Stolen valor” is a term applied to professing deeds claimed but not performed. Women in uniform during WWII (and since) performed their duties with distinction and endured both capture and death. Eighty years later, doubts or beliefs professing otherwise, in the face of documents, of data, isn’t just folly; it’s actually a shameful attempt to steal the valor these women rightfully earned.
After 30 years in the Army I can say the commands I served in saw soldiers killed in the line of duty on numerous occasions. A jeep Rollover on a hilltop inside the DMZ in Korea and another on maneuvers in Hawaii. A soldier electrocuted when an antenna fell onto a power line during training and a soldier falling off a tower during a repair job. Regardless of sex, these were soldiers serving their nation. Combat or not, they were serving their country and deserve our respect and gratitude. Same goes for those women in WWII.
Well said Mr. Reaney
While my grandfather was Ambassador to the
United Kingdom. During World War Two my aunt
Kathleen Kennedy Cavendish worked in London
England as a debutante in 1938 and worked for
the Red Cross. She died in a plane crash in 1948
Flying to the south of France while on Vacation
with the 8th Earl Fitzwilliam.
One of the things I’m always careful about when I write history is claims of “the first,” “the largest,” or “the best.” Because, as you can see here, they can be subject to challenge. As I tell people who ask me for advice “to write good history, strip out all of the adjectives.”
These women all made sacrifices for their country. Let’s not diminish their sacrifice by attributing comments made by volunteers to their service.
And let’s also remember that every woman who has ever served their country has been a volunteer–no woman in uniform ever had to decide between going to war or going to jail, or answering her draft board or going to Canada. They all CHOSE to serve. We’ve had to draft men for every major war we’ve had.
And as for numbers, well, every life is precious. Is Sharon Lane’s sacrifice any less important because she was the only woman killed by hostile fire in Vietnam? Of course not. So why would anyone say that 500 women are somehow now worthy of recognition when every one of tehm could have stayed home, safe and sound, had they wanted to?
I am not a relative; however, I wanted this included because I have been wowed by the service of Mrs Cavendish and this brave group of women.
The fact that all the women in uniform or in other service to the nation and allied success, who lost their lives should wow each of us as many pushed forward when men balked to include them at any point near the fighting, yet they stepped forward. I am more proud of them than men who found a safe place to ride out the war.
I have known one of those who caught part of a grenade blast but sustained no wounds and left his team on the ground without their air supplied and not all of the casualties. With his mindset, would walk proudly among those embarrassed that he was still around a whole week!
I once researched Frieda Christine Blanck / Private Frieda C. Friend, who was married to Staff Sergeant Roy J. Friend. I found some interesting newspaper articles about her service and missing as WAAC in Africa in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and the Long Island Daily Press.
The Army had 21,900 operational beds in the Italy Base Section (Communications Zone) in August 1944–the closest data available to her crash, so without knowing the destination of the aircraft, it’s impossible to say. But if I were to make an educated guess, I’d say Leghorn, on the Western coast of Northern Italy, where the Army had 10,000 operational beds as of 3 December 1944.
My father was Division surgeon for the 92nd in that area and was stationed there then.
Lutz was not part of a “secret unit.” Air Transport and Troop Carrier groups flew thousands of supply/medevac missions. They were “unmarked” because of the dual mission role. No secret about it.
My Dad flew dozens of those missions inbJune, July, and August of 1944 with nurses from 806th, 811th, and 813th MAES.
Rest In Peace
@Larry W. Mayes:
I’m afraid you’re mistaken about the Distinguished Flying Cross being part of the narrative. Lutz was a nurse assigned to a Medical Evacuation Squadron in the Army Air Forces. She’s wearing wings–probably the Army Air Forces Flight Nurse Wings–which means she was a manifested member of the crew, not a passenger.
Here is the citation for her Distinguished Flying Cross:
*LUTZ, ALEDA E.
First Lieutenant, Army Nurse Corps, U.S. Army
Date of Action: 1 November 1944
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, approved July 2, 1926, takes pride in presenting the Distinguished Flying Cross to First Lieutenant Aleda E. Lutz, Army Nurse Corps. For extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight as flight nurse of a C-47 type aircraft. Throughout her long period of service, Lieutenant Lutz has distinguished herself through her superior professional skill and courage. Flying on more than 190 missions to evacuate wounded personnel from the forward areas, Lieutenant Lutz’s resourcefulness and determination have been of high inspiration to those serving with her. On 1 November 1944, while flying on a mission to evacuate wounded personnel from the front lines, a severe storm rocked Lieutenant Lutz’s aircraft from her pilot’s control, and it crashed in Southern France. Her selfless devotion to duty and outstanding proficiency have reflected highest credit upon herself and the Armed Forces of the United States.
Which you can read for yourself here: https://achh.army.mil/regiment/dfc-dfc2
AS for me, I’m a professional, school trained military medical historian with 33 years of experience. That’s why I cite sources. And I served in Desert Storm and Iraq.