Countless stories of heroism surfaced after the Pearl Harbor attacks, including that of First Lieutenant Annie G. Fox (Army Nurse Corps), who received a Bronze Star for her courageous actions. The Bronze Star, when awarded for bravery, it is the fourth-highest combat award of the U.S. Armed Forces.
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Lt. Fox was the Station Hospital’s Head Nurse at Hickam Field. The 30-bed hospital opened in November 1941, with six nurses. Fox joined the Army Nurse Corps in 1918, at the end of WWI. Although she was no stranger to military service, the Japanese attack landed her in combat for the first time. The 47-year-old quickly took control of the situation as bombs fell on the base.
Accounts of the Pearl Harbor attack by hospital staff detailed a terrifying situation. Enemy airplanes flew so close and low to the ground that the nurses could see the pilots talking to each other. Then, the Pearl Harbor nurses heard explosions and plumes of black smoke after each airplane dive. Casualties flooded into the hospital within just minutes of the first bombing. Hospital staff jumped into action as the incessant sounds of torpedoes, bombs, machine guns and anti-aircraft guns choked the air.
As the attack progressed, bombs even well around the hospital itself. The smoke and fumes became so horrible that the hospital workers put on gas masks and helmets as they tended to the wounded. The wounded patients suffered from serious shrapnel wounds in the abdomen, chest, face, head, arms and legs.
As Head Nurse, Lt. Fox coordinated the hospital’s response to the assault and rallied the nurses. The wives of officers and NCOs reported to the hospital to provide assistance. Then, Lt. Fox organized the civilian volunteers to fashion hundreds of hospital dressings and help with patient care. Lt. Fox herself participated in surgery, administering anesthesia. Afterward, she, along with the other nurses, tended to the wounded.
In recognition of her efforts, Lt. Fox became the first woman in American history to receive the Purple Heart medal on October 26, 1942. Part of her citation read:
Four other Army nurses also received recognition for their performance during the attack. Captain Helena Clearwater, First Lieutenant Elizabeth A. Pesut, Second Lieutenant Elma L. Asson, and Second Lieutenant Rosalie L. Swenson each received the Legion of Merit “for extraordinary fidelity and essential service.”