Under their Wing: Impact of Flight Nurses in the Pacific

Guiding Question:

How did flight nurses impact World War II in the Pacific Theater?


Using interactive technology from the American Battle Monuments Commission as well as primary and secondary source analysis, students will understand how flight nurses played a crucial role in World War II.


Historical Context

The Pacific Theater posed unique challenges for both service members and the medical personnel who cared for them. During World War II, expanded air transportation routes permitted the military to fly injured servicemen to better equipped hospitals far from the front lines for treatment. The U.S. Army Air Corps began training medical personnel to be able to provide the specialized care required on these evacuation flights. An instruction program for flight nurses, surgeons, and medical technicians was established at Bowman Field near Louisville, Kentucky. Service members learned crash procedures, survival techniques, and the ways high altitude evacuation flights could pose challenges for their patients’ care. The need for the first contingent of nurses was so great that they were actually sent to North Africa in December 1942 before they could complete the program. The first class of nurses graduated from Bowman Field on February 18, 1943. During World War II, about 500 flight nurses served their country on 31 air evacuation transport squadrons. Seventeen flight nurses were killed in the line of duty, but of the nearly 1.2 million patients they carried, only 46 died en route. The incredible care delivered by medical personnel no doubt contributed to Allied success.


At the conclusion of this lesson, students will be able to

  • Describe the history of flight nursing and the training received by prospective nurses at Bowman Field;
  • Evaluate the importance of nurses’ efforts in the Pacific Theater; and
  • Understand the particular challenges of providing medical care to the wounded during World War II.

Standards Connections

Connections to Common Core
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.9 Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

Connections to C3 Framework
D2.His.1.9-12. Evaluate how historical events and developments were shaped by unique circumstances of time and place as well as broader historical contexts.
D2.His.2.9-12. Analyze change and continuity in historical eras.
D2.His.16.9-12. Integrate evidence from multiple relevant historical sources and interpretations into a reasoned argument about the past.


Lesson Preparation


Activity One: Bell Ringer - Nursing in the Pacific (10-15 minutes)

  • Project the clip from the opening scene of the the 1945 government film, The Army Nurse. The film clip runs from 0:00-1:32.
    • Ask the students, What needs to happen to help ensure that the fallen soldier in the clip will survive? Discussion may include ideas about transportation, hospitalization, blood transfusions, medicines, care from surgeons and nurses, etc.
    • Ask the students, What special concerns regarding the medical treatment of men and women exist in the Pacific Theater? Students should be encouraged to consider factors like inadequate/absent health facilities in the field of battle, the need to move patients great distances for treatment, dangers inherent in trying to administer aid in a combat zone, tropical diseases, and climate concerns.
    • Tell students that today they will be focusing on the role that World War II flight nurses played in the Pacific Theater.
    • As a group, read A Brief History of Air Evacuation Handout.

Activity Two: Stations on a Nurse’s Life (60 minutes)

  • Divide class into small groups of three to four students for station work. Students will become more familiar with World War II flight nurses by examining three sets of sources: Recruitment and Training, Duties, and Risks & Results. Hand each student a copy of the A Nurse’s Life Question Sheet, which contains questions related to each set of sources. This sheet will guide their study at every station.
  • Explain that working cooperatively in their group, students will utilize the first source packet they are given to answer the corresponding questions on their A Nurse’s Life Question Sheet. All groups at the same station should have a copy of the same source packet. Inform students that they will have 15 minutes to work on the materials at each station.
    • Teacher should circulate, assisting any student groups that might need help. He or she should also provide a time warning when five minutes remain at each station.
  • Return the materials to their folders after the first 15 minutes have elapsed and move students to the next station. Make sure that all students see all documents by the end of the third rotation.
  • Direct students to tackle the next set of questions on the A Nurse’s Life Question Sheet.
    • As before, teacher should circulate freely to troubleshoot and provide a five minute warning as time elapses.
  • Move the sources one more time between student groups. Students should now have their final set of sources and questions.
  • Discuss the A Nurse’s Life Question Sheet as a large group if time permits. If the teacher is short on time, this activity may also be collected.
  • Ask students to return to their seats to complete the final activity, the exit ticket.

Assessment Materials

Assessment: Exit Ticket

  • Distribute the Exit Ticket Handout. Students will respond to two prompts that force them to call upon their learning from class.
    • In your opinion, what was the most crucial element of the flight nurse’s training? Why?
    • Imagine that you have been tasked with designing a memorial to commemorate World War II flight nurses in the Pacific Theater. Based on your station activities today, which area of their service would you choose to commemorate - Recruitment & Training, Duties, or Risks & Results - and why? Where would you build the memorial (be specific!) and what would it look like? Describe at least three features that you would incorporate and why. If you are artistically inclined and want to sketch out your idea, feel free!
  • Teacher should collect the completed ticket from students as they depart.
  • The Exit Ticket Rubric can be used to score the response.

Methods for Extension

  • Students interested in the role of women in the U.S. military may examine the service of women in the WAAC (Army), WAVES (Navy), or SPARS (Coast Guard).
  • Students might also like to examine the role that WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots) played in transporting planes both within the U.S. and abroad, or the recent debate over why female pilots like Elaine Harmon should be permitted to be buried as veterans at Arlington National Cemetery.
  • Advanced students may also enjoy looking at the role that gender plays in World War II nurse recruitment materials.
  • Teachers can enhance students’ interest in women in World War II by exploring this related lesson plan on


  • Teachers can adapt the project to younger students or English language learners by reducing the requirements on the A Nurse’s Life Question Sheet and by limiting the sources analyzed to one per station.
  • Teachers can group students in several ways, by ability in heterogeneous or homogeneous teams, depending on student needs and teacher preference.
  • Rather than running stations, teachers may also opt to have students jigsaw the assignment within their small group. This means that each student becomes an expert on one specific topic—Recruitment & Training, Duties, or Risks & Results. Students will then teach the other students in their peer group about the topics they read about.
  • Teachers can expand the exit ticket into a full assignment and have students draw out the memorials they create in detail and then describe their design choices in paragraph form.


Return to Activity

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

Other Sources