Category Archives: Army Nurses

Who is the Most Decorated Woman in Military History?

ruby-bradley-photo-03The distinction of being the most decorated woman of the US Army as well as the third woman to rise to the rank of Colonel belongs to Ruby Bradley of Spencer, West Virginia.

Miss Ruby (as she was affectionately known) was one of six children raised on a farm. In 1926 she graduated from Glenville State College, Glenville WV, and was hired to teach grades 1-8 in a one-room school house. She taught many to read and write. In 1930 she choose to go to Philadelphia to become a nurse. Then in 1934 she joined the Army Nurse Corps to begin a career that spanned WWII and Korea. After WWII she earned a BS in Nursing at the University of California. West Virginia University awarded her an honorary doctorate in 1964.

Miss Bradley entered the Army Nurse Corps as a surgical nurse in 1934. She was serving at Camp John Hay in the Philippines when she was captured by Japanese forces three weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. In 1943, she was moved to the Santo Tomas Internment Camp in Manila. It was there that she and several other imprisoned nurses earned the title “Angels in Fatigues” from fellow captives. For the next several months, she provided medical help to the prisoners and sought to feed starving children by shoving food into her pockets whenever she could, often going hungry herself. As she lost weight, she used the room in her uniform for smuggling surgical equipment into the prisoner-of-war camp. At the camp she assisted in 230 operations and helped to deliver 13 children. On February 3, 1945, U.S. troops stormed the gates of the Japanese camp and liberated Colonel Bradley and her fellow prisoners, ending her three years of captivity. She weighed 80 pounds at the time.

Miss Bradley served in the Korean War as Chief Nurse for the 171st Evacuation Hospital before being named Chief Nurse for the Eighth Army in 1951, where she supervised over 500 Army nurses throughout Korea. It was there that she refused to leave until she had loaded the sick and wounded onto a plane while surrounded by 100,000 Chinese soldiers. She was able to jump aboard the plane just as her ambulance exploded from an enemy shell.

She was promoted to the rank of colonel in 1958 and retired from the Army in 1963. Her military record included 34 medals and citations of bravery, including two Legion of Merit medals, two Bronze stars, two Presidential Emblems, the World War II Victory Medal, and the United Nations Service Medal.

After three decades of military service Colonel Bradley retired from the Army in 1963. She worked as a private duty nurse for seventeen years following her retirement from the Army.

Colonel Bradley, died May 28, 2002 in Hazard, Kentucky, at age 94 after a heart attack. She was honored with a military funeral in the historic Arlington National Cemetery overlooking the nation’s capital. Her coffin was escorted to the grave site by six white horses, and the symbolic riderless horse followed, while the Army Band played traditional hymns. A firing party of seven sounded three volleys in her honor, and the flag covering her coffin was folded and presented to a relative. Several family members and Army soldiers laid roses on the coffin, saluting as they turned to leave.

Additional information on this interesting lady may be found by initiating a web search. Information used for this article was gleaned from West Virginia encyclopedia, Arlington National Cemetery, Wikipedia and other sources.