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Second Lieutenant Elsie S. Ott

Today’s Illustrated Woman in History was drawn by Lily Grace Stewart and submitted for inclusion in the next Illustrated Women in History zine. 

Second Lieutenant Elsie S. Ott was a pioneer in air evacuation of military casualties and the first woman to receive the United States Air Medal.

Ott was born in 1913 in Smithtown, New York, where she attended high school. Ott then continued her education at the Lenox Hill Hospital School of Nursing in New York City. She worked in a variety of hospitals before joining the Army Airforce Nurse Corps in September 1941, becoming a second lieutenant. Ott was first sent on assignment to Louisiana and Virginia, and later travelled to Karachi, India where she would make history.

There were huge numbers of wounded soldiers in Karachi, and it was difficult to evacuate them from the battle zone into a safe place for them to be tended to. Ott was part of the first ever intercontinental air evacuation, and assigned to the flight with 24 hours notice. She had received no air evacuation training and had never flown in a plane before. On January 17, 1843 she served as the only in-flight nurse for 5 soldiers during a six and a half day journey that would have previously taken three months by boat. Ott had outfitted the plane with bedpans, sheets blankets and two cots anchored to the floor to transport the soldiers who suffered from a variety of ailments including: tuberculosis, paralysis from multiple fractures, bedsores and polio.

The plane first stopped in Salalah, Arabia, then Aden (now capital of Yemen), Gura in Ethiopia then Khartoum and El Fasher in Egyptian Sudan. Ott was forced to arrange and pay for meals for both the patients, and herself with her own money. After stopping in Accra, Ghana the soldiers were transferred to a B-24 with mattresses, and picked up 11 new patients before travelling to Ascension Island, Arr Natal in South Africa, Belém, Brazil, Borinquen, Puerto Rico, Morrison Field in Florida and finally reached its destination just outside of Washington.

The air evacuation was a success, and Ott was able to safely transport the soldiers to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington D.C for treatment. During the flight, Ott took notes and made suggestions of improvements for future evacuations including: more bandages, extra blankets and oxygen and stated that skirts were impractical.

Two months later, Ott was presented with the first Air Medal presented to a woman and reassigned to flight evacuation school, where she was a part of the first ever training program for flight nurses at Bowman Army Air Field in Kentucky. Later that year, Ott returned to India with the 803rd Military Air Evacuation Squad, which she would later become Captain of.

Sources here, here, here and here

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