The U.S. Military's First Female General
Since her childhood days wrapping bandages around the legs of a kitchen table, Anna Mae Violet McCabe Hays aspired to be the best nurse that she could be. The daughter of Salvation Army officers, Hays led a life of service, enlisting in the Army Nurse Corps during World War II. Her Army career spanned three decades, over which she became the first female general in U.S. military history. On January 7, 2018, Hays passed away at the age of 97. She left behind a remarkable legacy of commitment to her country.
Following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Anna Mae joined the Army Nurse Corps. After completing her training, she was assigned to a military base in Assam, India. For more than two years in the China-Burma-India Theater of World War II, she tended to the sick and wounded while battling monsoon weather, dengue fever, dysentery, malaria, and leeches.
Hays in 1943, seated at an Army hospital in Ledo, India. (Photo: U.S. Army Medical Department)
During the Korean War, the resilient nurse was deployed once again. Anna Mae spent seven months in a field hospital, describing the conditions as “even worse than the jungle in World War II,” attributing those struggles to the shortage of supplies and lack of warmth in the operating room.
Hays came through for her country again during the Vietnam War. In 1967, she was named chief of the Army Nurse Corps and promoted to colonel. Her four-year tenure involved three trips to Vietnam, where she monitored medical care at a time when casualty rates were the highest of the war. For her actions, Anna Mae earned the Distinguished Service Medal and the Legion of Merit.
Her name was forever linked to history on June 11, 1970. That day, Hays was promoted to brigadier general after being nominated by President Richard M. Nixon. It was the first time that a woman ever wore the stars of a general officer in the U.S. Armed Forces. During the same ceremony, Elizabeth P. Hoisington, the director of the Women’s Army Corps was also promoted to brigadier general.
Elizabeth P. Hoisington (left), and Anna Mae Hays at the Pentagon shortly after being promoted to brigadier general. (Photo: Times.com)
A year later, General Hays retired from the Army. In a ceremony in the office of the Army chief of staff, General William C. Westmoreland, she received the Distinguished Service Medal. In her speech, Hays reflected on serving nearly 30 years as an Army Nurse Corps officer. From her experience, she felt “that there was something special about being an Army nurse.”
In 2013, Anna Mae V. McCabe Hays was asked how she hoped to be remembered. She said, “First of all, as the first woman general, but as a very honest person, as a kind individual who did her best – and succeeded.” General Hay’s devotion to her country, along with the character that she showed will always be fondly thought of. Above all, she will always be remembered as a true American hero.