Topics - African-American Nurses
in the Korean War Theatre & Elsewhere

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There were very few Black nurses in Korea
or serving outside mainland USA during the war years.

[KWE Note:  This page was difficult to research due to lack of resources about African-American nurses who served during the Korean War.  To add information to this page, contact Lynnita.  The KWE is a free service.] 

According to the U.S. Army Medical Department's Office of Medical History, "The Korean War was a turning point in the reception of African American nurses in the Army Nurse Corps. The passage of Executive Order 9981 triggered the Army as an organization to eliminate 300 segregated units. African American nurses were finally able to serve in integrated hospitals in Korea, Japan, Hawaii, and in the continental United States. African American nurses cared for wounded frontline soldiers and combat evacuees without the constraints of a segregated environment. They did so with great merit."

The fact that President Truman's Executive Order demanding integration of the military service was signed on September 26, 1948 didn't make it easy for black female nurses to integrate into the military.  There were some 600 military nurses serving in military hospitals in the Korean theatre during the war.  Of those, there were very few black nurses. The names of the black nurses the KWE has learned about to date include the following:

Black nurses serving in Korea during the war:

  • Lt. Martha E. Cleveland (later Colonel)
  • Maj. Nancy Leftenant-Colon
  • Lt. Evelyn Decker 
  • Lt. Mattie Donnell Hicks
  • Lt. Nancy Greene Peace
  • Capt. Eleanor Yorke

Black nurses serving outside mainland USA during the war:

  • Edith Mazie DeVoe
  • Lt. Claudia Richardson

Black nurses serving in post-war Korea:

  • Clara L. Adams-Ender
  • Bettye Hill Simmons
  • Hazel Johnson-Brown

Black Nurses Serving in Korea During the War

Lt. Martha E. Cleveland

Lieutenant (later Colonel) Cleveland was assigned to the 11th Evacuation Hospital in Korea.


CLEVELAND, Colonel Martha Stokes, 97, passed away on Saturday, September 24, 2016. The funeral service will be held Saturday, October 1, at First Baptist Church at 11 a.m. Viewing will be held prior to the service from 10 to 11 a.m. Visitation will be held Friday, September 30, from 6 to 8 p.m., at Mercy Seat Baptist Church. Colonel Cleveland, a native of Farmville, was a faithful member of Mercy Seat Baptist Church, where she was a trustee, deaconess and hostess for the Hospitality Committee. Colonel Cleveland completed St. Phillips Hospital Nursing School in Richmond, Va., in 1943. She later continued her education at Hampton University in Hampton, Va. She joined the military in 1944, where she served as a nurse, rising through the ranks to become Colonel, until her retirement in April 1974. Her overseas duty stations included Japan, Korea, Europe, Germany and Thailand. Colonel Cleveland was a member of Farmville Chapter #153 OES, Kappa Rho Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc, Piedmont Virginia Chapter of MOAA, and supporter of Call Me Mister of Longwood University. She participated and supported numerous other community organizations. She was preceded in death by her parents, Luther H. and Alice Spraggs Stokes; brothers, Clem and Leslie Stokes; and sister, Carrie V. Stokes. She is survived by brothers, Howard Stokes and wife, Jane, of Jessup, Md. and John Stokes of Lanham, Md.; and sister-in-law, Mildred Stokes of Southfield, Mich. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be sent to the American Heart Association or the American Cancer Society.


Maj. Nancy Leftenant Colon

[Source: University of Nebraska Medical Center]

No woman at the Tuskegee convention had the badge of legacy and heritage equal to Nancy Leftenant Colon, a world-traveled country girl, not only made indelible military history, but also is the first woman ever elected president of the Tuskegee Airmen International.

"I came from a family of six boys and six girls in Goose Grease, S.C.," Major Colon said at the Tuskegee convention. "I was 12 years old before I found out that you were supposed to get presents at Christmas."

Major Colon worked as a maid for an entire year to save up the $100 she needed to begin nursing school. As a nurse, her first salary was $20 a month. The school she attended was as much a "finishing school" as nursing school. She was taught how to dress and behave, as well as run an entire ward single-handedly. When she entered the military in 1944, she went from second lieutenant to first lieutenant in 11 months because no other nurses could carry the workload she had been trained to bear.

Major Colon was one of the first 36 black nurses ever sent as a group to the East Coast. Until that time, most black nurses were stationed out West, usually at Fort Huachuca, N.M.

"I think it is very important to remember that black women in the military suffered all the same segregation and indignities as the men did," Major Colon said. "Traveling across the country was especially horrible for black women. Knowing I would have to drive great distances, I would not drink any fluids for up to two days before leaving -- you just didn't want to have to stop in the Southern towns to use a bathroom along the way in those days. That could just be too dangerous."

Flight nurse was the most elite status for military nurses. Major Colon had to wait five years before certification as a flight nurse even though she had the highest ratings and scores. That is why she always counseled younger women that "you not only have to be excellent, you also have to be patient. Some doors just aren't going to open right away and you have to have the perseverance to wait them out."

As a flight nurse she served in Korea, Japan, Okinawa and Indochina. In an astonishing historic moment, Major Colon was aboard the first medical evacuation flight into the defeated French outpost in Dien Bien Phu, in Vietnam in 1954. Her life story will be an entire chapter in a book to be published about black women veterans of World War II written by history students at Hiram College, Hiram, Ohio.

"I am grateful that our university continues to provide forums to explore the history of health care and the role of people of color," Ford said. "First, because I and others like me, stand on the shoulders of these ground breakers. Second, as we struggle with health disparities in the United States today, we must remember that a significant part of these disparities is due to the long-term effect of not having enough health care professionals of color that resulted from generations of discrimination and segregation.

"We don't revisit this history for the purpose of recrimination and divisiveness. Rather, we use history as an aid to understanding how things got to be the way they are today and how we can work together to develop more inclusive health profession opportunities and patient outcomes in the future."


[Source of article below: US Air Force, "Nurse Faced Hurdles for Military Acceptance"]

FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. (AFNS) -- Retired Army Maj. Nancy C. Leftenant-Colon, the first black nurse in the Reserve or active-duty Army nurse corps, didn't expect it to be easy.

As a Reservist, she knew upon joining the U.S. Army in 1945 that there would be hurdles, but her strength in the face of adversity created avenues for generations to follow, in both the Army and the Air Force. It wasn't enough that she became the first Black member of the Regular Army Nurse Corps. She also served in the Air Force as a flight nurse and continued to make history as the only woman to hold the presidency of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., from 1989-1991.

The East Norwich, N.Y. native remembers her efforts to success.  As a registered nurse in the mid-1940s, Leftenant-Colon had become well aware of the austere circumstances Black women faced in pursuit of their professional training. Still, she graduated from the Lincoln School for Nurses in the Bronx, where a fair number of minority students attended. There, she saw a photo that caught her attention and spurred her consideration of the Army.  "I saw a picture of an Army nurse with her cape," she said. "She looked so good --straight and I tall. I wanted to do my part."

Leftenant-Colon said she recalled many of her colleagues' exhaust in battling the rigors of fitting into the military during such a turbulent time for civil rights. However, she endured, and with her impressive record applied for regular status as a nurse in 1948. Military officials soon approved her becoming the first Black nurse in the Regular Army Nurse Corps.

Following the Air Force's emergence from the Army Air Corps, Leftenant-Colon recalled, as a traveling Air Force nurse, the hardship of having to drive hundreds of miles out of the way in the South to stay with friends because Blacks were denied rooms at most motels.  Still, she describes her military experiences favorably, noting the quality of one's work, and not the color of one's skin should be paramount. In her career, she considered herself a nurse first, above any racial classification.

Leftenant-Colon retired and returned to New York in 1965. In Las Vegas during the August 2009 Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., convention, she participated in the concurrent promotion ceremony for Brig. Gen. Stayce Harris, the first black female to command an operational flying wing in the Air Force.


Lt. Evelyn Decker

Evelyn Decker left her home in Washingtonville and entered nursing school in Harlem in 1936.  She joined the US Army in 1944 to serve in World War II.  During the Korean War she served in the 8055th MASH unit and was a member of the 38th Parallel Medical Society of Korea.  After duty in Korea compromised her health, she left the army after serving 13 years.  She eventually received 100 percent service-connected disability rating for lung disease.  She finally received her captain's bars at age 92.  Captain Decker died April 25, 2008 at the Northport Veterans Medical Center in Northport, New York.  She is buried in Washingtonville Cemetery. Captain Decker authored Stella's Girl: The Autobiography of Captain Evelyn Decker, a World War II and Korean War Veteran. 


Maj. Mattie Donnell Hicks

[Source of article below: University of North Carolina at Greensboro - The university's special collections include the Mattie Donnell Hicks Collection consisting of: African-American nurse Mattie Donnell Hicks (1914-2004) of Greensboro, North Carolina, served in the Army Nurse Corps (ANC) from 1945 to 1966.]

African-American nurse Mattie Donnell Hicks (1914-2004) of Greensboro, North Carolina, served in the Army Nurse Corps (ANC) from 1945 to 1966.

Mattie Donnell Hicks was born 2 September 1914 and raised in Greensboro, North Carolina. She graduated from Dudley High School and entered nurse's training at the Grady Hospital School of Nursing in Atlanta, Georgia. Hicks graduated after three years and worked in Gainesville, Georgia, and Spartanburg, South Carolina. She also completed graduate courses in public health in both Richmond, Virginia, and Charlotte, North Carolina.

Hicks joined the ANC on 2 July 1945, and completed three weeks of basic training with an integrated unit at Camp McCoy in Wisconsin. She was shipped to the general army hospital at Camp San Luis Obispo in California, where she became a member of an African American unit. Hicks was released from the army following VJ Day in August 1945, but re-entered in March 1946. She was sent to Tilton Army Hospital at Fort Dix, New Jersey, as a general medical and surgical nurse, and then to the Fort Lee, Virginia.

From 1951 to 1953, Hicks served at the 11th Evacuation Hospital in Korea and later at the Osaka Hospital in Japan. Additional stations of duty include Lockburne Air Base in Columbus, Ohio; Valley Forge General Hospital in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania; Letterman Army Hospital in San Francisco, California; the U.S. Army Hospital at Fort Lee, Virginia; 2nd Field Hospital in Germany; the U.S. Army Hospital at Bremerhaven, Germany; and Womack Army Hospital at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Hicks retired from the army as a major in April 1966, after twenty-one years of service. She built a house in Greensboro and worked part-time as a nurse at the L. Richardson Memorial Hospital. Mattie Hicks died Greensboro on 14 March 2004.


[Source of article below: Appalachian State University, "North Carolina Nursing History"]

Visit the university's website at:

After World War II ended in August 1945, the nation returned to peaceful pursuits. On July 26, 1948, President Truman signed Executive Order 9981, abolishing racial segregation in the armed forces. In June 1950, North Korea, a small Asian nation of little concern to most Americans, launched a surprise invasion of its neighbor to the South. The United States was once again at war, fighting alongside its ally, South Korea. Many active duty nurses were unexpectedly called to scene of battle. One of the North Carolina nurses responding to this call was Mattie Hicks.

Mattie Donnell Hicks was born in Greensboro, North Carolina on September 2, 1914, to John and Josephine Donnell. She was one of ten children. Pursuing her childhood dream to become a nurse, after graduating from the all African American Dudley High School, she enrolled at the Grady Hospital School of Nursing in Atlanta, Georgia. Three years later she earned her diploma and began her career at a segregated, rural hospital in Gainesville, Georgia.
Hicks “wanted to do something different in going into the military to try to help the soldiers with their wounds and all that”. She joined the Army Nurse Corps on July 2, 1945 but served only a few weeks until World War II ended in August 1945. However, Hicks realized she enjoyed Army nursing so she re-enlisted in March 1946 and stayed for twenty one years.

When the Korean War broke out, Hicks was assigned to the 11th Evacuation Hospital in Wonju, Korea on the eastern battlefront. During the war, approximately 540 Army Nurses served on the ground in Korea. Many of these nurses served in the newly created Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals (MASH) units close to the front. Seriously wounded and ailing troops were air lifted to awaiting Navy hospital ships or evacuated to Army Hospitals in Japan and the United States for more intense treatment than was available in MASH units or evacuation hospitals. Hicks and other nurses in Evacuation Hospitals took wounded soldiers from the MASH units and provided more extensive care until the men could either rejoin the battle or be evacuated from the country. She recalled in an oral history interview in 1999

We enjoyed our work very much. One thing, we were kept busy because patients would be coming right off the battlefield because they had the helicopters to pick them up, bring them right to the hospital which saved a lot of their lives … whenever a shipment would come in, you’d work … if they were in real bad shape, they would ship them on right away. But if they were not in too bad shape, they would stay right there and we’d take care of them.

Each Evacuation Hospital had a specialty area. The 11th Evacuation Hospital had a renal insufficiency unit and pioneered the use of renal (kidney) dialysis. Hicks and her colleagues at the 11th Evacuation Hospital were among the first nurses to support patients with hemorrhagic fever on the first generation of artificial kidney machines. In addition to patients with renal disease and battlefield wounds, Hicks and her colleagues provided general car for soldiers and their family members with a variety of ailments. She recalled civilians coming to the hospitals with tuberculosis and gastro-intestinal distress.

“We had to run a tube down their throat and clean – and get all the fluid and stuff out of their stomach. And you know, through that tube live worms would come through, Live!”

When asked about her social situation in Korea, including homesickness, cold temperatures, Spartan accommodations and serving in one of the first integrated units in US armed forces history, Hicks remembered, “when you’re afraid, as most of us were, being in a theater where they were fighting and all that, you kind of act like a family”.

After her tour in Korea, Hicks served wherever the Army Nurse Corps needed her. Her postings included hospitals in Japan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Germany and North Carolina. She worked in medical surgical nursing and obstetrical nursing. The medals she earned for her courage and service including the World War II Victory Medal, the Korean Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, and Army Commendation Medal, the Armed Service Reserve Medal, a Meritorious Unit Citation and a United Nations Service Medal.

In March, 1966 Hicks retired from the Army having earned the rank of major. She returned home to Greensboro and built a home. After her years of travel she was ready to spend time with her extended family and childhood friends. She was dedicated to her church spending many hours serving on committees, in the choir and helping fellow congregants in need. Hicks passed away on March 14, 2004.


Lt. Nancy Carolyn Greene Peace

Lieutenant Peace served in the 11th Evacuation Hospital in Korea.  Born on January 25, 1926 in Covington City, Virginia, she was a daughter of Chester Greene (1890-1960) and Grace Reynolds Greene (1890-1929).  Her siblings were Reginald Chester Greene (1914-1993), Frazier Greene (1917-1938), Norine Marie Greene (19l18-1981) and Anna Louise Greene (1919-1956).  Lieutenant Peace died November 18, 2004 and is buried in J.T. Peace Memorial Gardens Cemetery, Oxford, Granville County, North Carolina.

Black Nurses Serving Outside Mainland USA During the Korean War

Lt. Edith Mazie DeVoe

Born October 24, 1921, Edith Mazie DeVoe was the second black woman admitted to the US Navy Nurse Corps during World War II.  She was the first black nurse admitted to the regular Navy.  She was the first black nurse to serve in the Navy outside the mainland USA.  In 1950 she was assigned to the Tripler Army-Navy Hospital, which served multiple service branches.  There she assisted in the evacuees and injured serving in the Korean War.  She became a full lieutenant on May 1, 1952.  In August of that year she was transferred to the naval hospital in Pasadena, California.  Lieutenant DeVoe died on November 17, 2000.

Lt. Claudia Richardson

Lieutenant Richardson was an Army nurse assigned to Tripler Army Hospital in Hawaii.  While serving there she was able to visit with her brother, Vincent Richardson, who had been evacuated to Tripler due to wounds received in the Korean War.

Black Nurses Serving in Post-War Korea

BG Clara L. Adams-Ender

[Source of article below: Appalachian State University, "North Carolina Nursing History"]

Visit the university's website at:

Brigadier General Clara L. Adams-Ender of Willow Springs, North Carolina entered college in 1956 pursuing a profession in nursing after a suggestion from her father to forget her dream of being a lawyer. Little did Clara, or her father know was that her future would be a prestigious one as a nurse in the United States Army. Clara’s vocation changed halfway through college once she entered the Army to finish paying for nursing school. Little did her father truly know that Clara L. Adams-Ender would break down many barriers and become a woman of “firsts,” in the United States Army.

Adams-Ender was born to Caretha Bell Sapp Leach and Otha Leach. The fourth child of ten, Adams-Ender grew up in a family of sharecroppers. Adams-Ender earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. She entered the army's student nurse program to help pay her final two years of nursing school. Upon her graduation in 1961, she was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps. Beginning her career with the Army, Adams-Ender received training at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam in Houston, Texas. Adams-Ender was assigned overseas, beginning in 1963, as a staff nurse for the 121st evacuation hospital in the Pacific theater near North Korea; she later served in Germany. Clara quickly rose through the ranks and became a Brigadier- General.

In 1967, she became the first female in the Army to qualify for, and be awarded the Expert Field Medical Badge. Brigadier General Adams received a Master of Science in Nursing degree from the University of Minnesota in 1969. At the University of Minnesota is where she developed her fond love of teaching that directly carried into her professional life as a nurse and instructor of nurses.

“The army was opening a school of nursing … because this was Vietnam and we needed to get more nurses out. So the army had opened this school of nursing … and I was going there to get my master's degree so that I could teach in that school, because I had already made known the fact that I wanted to teach there.”

From this degree she would move to teach at Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing and remained there as an instructor for five years. Clara received a Master of Military Arts and Sciences degree from the US Army Command and Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas in 1976, the first woman ever to earn such a degree.

In 1982, Adams-Ender became the first African American Army Nurse Corps officer to graduate from the U.S. Army War College. She was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General in 1987 and appointed Chief of the Army Nurse Corps. Following this post, Adams-Ender served as the Commanding General, U.S. Army Fort Belvoir, Virginia and Deputy Commanding General, U.S. Army Military District of Washington until her retirement in August 1993.

Among the awards bestowed on Adams-Ender are the Distinguished Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters, Army Commendation Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, Expert Field Medical Badge, and the Army Staff Identification Badge.[30] She also earned while in Germany its Cross of Honor in Gold.

After retirement, Adams-Ender also served as the President of Caring About People With Enthusiasm (CAPE) Associates, Inc., and published her autobiography, My Rise to the Stars: How a Sharecropper's Daughter Became an Army General, in 2001. Adams-Ender was a woman of firsts. She was the first woman in her family to join the Army (two of her brothers had already joined some portion of the armed services); she was the first female in the Army to qualify for, and be awarded the Expert Field Medical Badge; she was the first woman to earn a Master of Military Arts and Sciences; she became the first African American Army Nurse Corps officer to graduate from the U.S. Army War College, and became the first army nurse to command a major army base in 1991 of Fort Belvoir in Virginia.

Her personal life consisted largely of her professional life. Clara married Heinz Ender in 1981 whom she had met while stationed in Germany, an oral surgeon and orthodontist. They later had a son named Sven Ingo. Clara excelled a long way from her days as a sharecropper on a tobacco farm in Wake County, North Carolina. She had risen to be one of the most well respected nurses and Army-women of the United States Armed Forces.

“The lessons [I learned in overcoming obstacles] were to be courageous, strong in your convictions, and never lose sight of the main goal. As I reflected, overcoming obstacles had been the story of my personal life and my career. Obstacles had really been opportunities to excel."


Bettye Hill-Simmons

Bettye Hill was born in San Antonio, Texas on February 15, 1950.  She entered the Army Nurse Corps after high school and in June of 1971 she got her first assignment as a clinical staff nurse at Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas.  In June of 1973 she became an instructor of practical nursing at Brooke.  In June of 1977 she became head nurse at the 121st Evacuation Hospital in Korea.  The next year she became head nurse in the Medical Intensive Care Unit at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.  During her military career she met and married Charles W. Simmons, an Army Reserve Officer.  She became the first African-American nurse to hold the dual role of deputy commander of the U.S. Army Medical Department Center and School which had 30,000 students on and off-site, and the 20th Chief of the Army Nurse Corps with 4,000 active personnel.  Bettye Hill-Simmons retired from active duty in 2000 and then became director of the Leadership Institute at Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia.


Hazel Winifred Johnson-Brown

[Source: The following article was written by Emily Langer, August 18, 2011, for the Washington Post]

Hazel Johnson-Brown, 83, the first African American woman to become an Army general and a former chief of the Army Nurse Corps, died Aug. 5 en route to a hospital near her home in Wilmington, Delaware. She had Alzheimer’s disease, said her sister, Gloria Smith.

The pioneering military nurse grew up on a Pennsylvania farm and enlisted in the Army in 1955, seven years after President Harry S. Truman ordered the desegregation of the military. She took assignments across the country and in Asia, rising in the ranks as she impressed her superiors with her skill in the operating room.

She made military history in 1979 when she was promoted to brigadier general and, at the same time, to the command of the 7,000 nurses in the Army Nurse Corps. She was the first black woman to hold both posts.  That milestone came almost 40 years after Army Brig. Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Sr. had become the first African American man to serve as a general in the U.S. military.

Hazel Johnson-Brown served in Japan before enlisting. In the 1970s, she was director of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing.  “Race is an incidence of birth,” Gen. Johnson-Brown said at the time of her promotion. “I hope the criterion for selection didn’t include race but competence.”

Gen. Johnson-Brown always wanted to be a nurse, her sister said, but racial prejudice created major obstacles. When she applied to study at the local hospital after high school, she was rejected.  “The director of nursing met us and said to her and myself, ‘We’ve never had a black person in our program, and we never will,’ ” Gen. Johnson-Brown told National Public Radio in 2004.

The Johnson family’s nurse, a white woman, saw the young Hazel’s potential and helped her gain admission to the Harlem Hospital School of Nursing, where she earned her nursing diploma in 1950. Gen. Johnson-Brown joined the Army to “travel, change my horizons and do many things,” she told The Washington Post in 1979. In civilian life, she realized, she would have had “to start at the bottom with each job.”  As she had hoped, the Army took Gen. Johnson-Brown around the world. She served in Japan soon after enlisting. In the 1960s, she trained surgical nurses on their way to Vietnam. In the 1970s, she was director of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing. She was serving as chief nurse of the Army hospital in Seoul when she was promoted to brigadier general.

Her military decorations included the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Meritorious Service Medal and Army Commendation Medal. She was twice named Army nurse of the year.

Hazel Winifred Johnson was born October 10, 1927, in West Chester, Pennsylvania. She was one of seven children.

In addition to her degree from the Harlem Hospital School of Nursing, she earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Villanova University in 1959, a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Teachers College in 1963 and a doctorate in educational administration from Catholic University in 1978.

After her Army retirement, Gen. Johnson-Brown headed the American Nurses Association’s government relations unit and directed George Mason University’s Center for Health Policy.

Her marriage to David Brown ended in divorce. Besides her sister, survivors include two brothers.

In the interview with National Public Radio, Gen. Johnson-Brown said that she was not a “quiet dissenter” when it came to the slights she suffered as a black woman, in uniform and out. She recalled going with her mother to a hot dog stand in Philadelphia. Several times the waitress walked past them to serve white customers first. When the waitress finally delivered their order, Gen. Johnson-Brown turned it away. “Now you eat it,” she told the waitress. To her mother she said, “Let’s go.”




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