The Nurses of Pearl Harbor

pearl harbor nurses

1Lt Annie FoxAnnie Fox is best known for her service at Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack on that base. Then-First Lt. Fox was the newly appointed chief nurse at Hickam Field.
The nurses that day were in a unique position. For the first time in American history, Army nurses were at the front lines of battle—and they had to serve in this capacity, without any warning or preparation.

“We thought we were having a two-year (holiday-style) tour of duty at taxpayer expense,” one nurse, Harriet Moore Holmes, later reminisced. “We were looking forward to it immensely.”
Holmes had spent the night of Saturday, December 6, 1941, at a dance with friends. They’d been out late, and Holmes was sound asleep when the Japanese struck the next morning.

She couldn’t believe the scene when a supervisor woke her up.
“I could see the black smoke streaming up from Pearl Harbor just over the hills and just then a Japanese pilot flew low over the hospital,” she described. “He waved at us. We felt lucky he didn’t want to bomb a hospital.”

1Lt Annie Fox was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for her actions on 7 December, 1941.

The Citation to Accompany the Bronze Star reads in part:

“[S]he administered anesthesia to patients during the heaviest part of the bombardment,” her citation stated, “assisted in dressing the wounded, taught civilian volunteer nurses to make dressings, and worked ceaselessly with coolness and efficiency, and her fine example of calmness, courage and leadership was of great benefit to the morale of all with whom she came in contact.”

But Fox wasn’t the only Army nurse who went above and beyond the call of duty that day. Anna UrdaSecond Lt. Anna Urda was a patient at Tripler General Hospital because of an infection in her right cheek. When the bombing started, she knew that she was a patient no more. She changed into her nurse’s uniform—but soon ran into her chief nurse.
Urda later described the encounter: “[A]s soon as [the chief nurse] looked at me she said, ‘Where do you think you’re going with that red face?’ And I said, ‘On duty where ever you need me.’”

Nearby, 2nd Lt. Myrtle Watson was working at Schofield Hospital. It was a weekend, so she was the only nurse on her ward. Worse, the chaos and damage from the bombing was making it difficult for doctors and nurses to make their way to the hospital.
“There was no communication and we were so busy, we had no idea what had happened at Pearl Harbor, how bad it was there,” Watson later told a reporter. She worked nearly nonstop for three days, tending to the wounded and living on chocolate bars and coffee.
Her family still didn’t even know if she’d survived.
We often hear about the bravery of the men who served at Pearl Harbor, but women performed nobly that day, too—nor was it only the Army nurses. Navy nurses had their own heroic moments in the ships that were being attacked in the harbor.

Navy Lt. Grace Lally, already recognized for her seniority in sea duty, further distinguished herself as an eyewitness to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Within minutes, she activated emergency and surgical services on USS Solace (AH-5), coordinating Navy clinicians and volunteers, including USPHS physicians, and saving the lives of hundreds that fateful day.

Lt Grace Lally

Serving aboard the USS Solace (AH-5), a hospital ship at Pearl Harbor, Lt Grace Lally performed admirably during the Pearl Harbor attack. Though initially in shock at the sight of the USS Arizona (BB-39) exploding into flames, Lally pulled herself together and continued carrying out her duties as Chief Nurse on Solace.

With her staff rushing with her, Lally helped set up emergency wards for the wounded. A the close of the day, Lally and her crew assisted nearly 300 wounded servicemen.

Pearl Harbor

Today is the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

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There are still 2000 to 3500 Pearl Harbor veterans still alive today.  The number has become difficult to arrive at because many veterans have never registered with the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association.  Most major cities in the U.S. have a chapter of the PHSA, but sadly, because of their advancing ages and other health issues, many chapters have had to close their doors.
Likewise, there are still many chapters across the country that are very active, such as Carnation Chapter 3 in San Diego, CA and Silver State Chapter 2 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Odd But True Facts About Pearl Harbor

  • When filming in Hawaii, Elvis Presley was shown the wreck of the U.S.S. Arizona.  Presley was so moved that he gave a charity concert that kick started the fund drive that built the current memorial.
  • The wreckage of the upper decks of the U.S.S. Arizona are still stored and guarded at an undisclosed location in Hawaii.
  • All five Japanese midget submarines have been found. The last under an underwater trash heap in the harbor. It has been proven that at least one made a successful attack on the U.S.S. Oklahoma.
  • Every Battleship sunk, with the exception of U.S.S. Arizona, U.S.S. Oklahoma , and U.S.S.  Utah were raised and fought in the war.
  • Three NFL football games were playing when the attack happened. The Eagles vs. the the Redskins.  The Bears vs. the Chicago Cardinals and the Giants vs. the (yes) Brooklyn Dodgers.  Soldiers and sailors were ordered to report to their units after the games.
  • The USS Arizona is not in commission.  She was placed “in ordinary” at Pearl Harbor on December 29,1941, and was stricken on December 1, 1942.
  • Two ship’s bells were recovered from the U.S.S. Arizona. One  is on display at the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor….the other is on the campus of the University of Arizona  in Tucson.  Once a month, the bell in Tucson is rung seven times at 12:07.  Bill Bowers, at the age of 99, was given the honor of ringing the bell for the first time in its new belfry on September 11, 2002.
  • The U.S.S. Nevada was the only battleship that got underway during the attack. Her bell and ship’s wheel is on display in the State Museum in Carson City, Nevada.
  • On August 29, 2002, Titanic discoverer Robert Ballard  found the midget submarine proving that the destroyer U.S.S. Ward did in fact fire the first shot of the Pearl Harbor attack and hit their target.

    U.S.S. Ward gunners hit the sub at the base of the conning tower on their second shot.


USS Arizona BB39, 1940
USS Arizona BB39, 1940