The 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor was “a day which will live in infamy” and led to numerous American men rushing to enlist in our military. Young Anna Mae Violet McCabe (Hays) decided she would, too.
Having graduated three years earlier from a nursing school, Hays joined the Army Nurse Corps. Her first overseas service was in India, where she braved “snake-infested jungles” while living in a bamboo hut and treating Army engineers with all sorts of tropical diseases during World War II, according to the New York Times.
After World War II, she re-enlisted and was sent to the Korean Peninsula in 1950 to help establish a military hospital there. The hospital she worked in repeatedly sustained attacks, forcing her to move around.
She recalled, “I think of Korea as even worse than the jungle in World War II because of the lack of supplies, lack of warmth in the operating room.”
After the Korean War, she married William A. Hays in 1956 while working at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. He died six years later. She never married again.
During the Vietnam War, Hays made three trips there to oversee the medical care of U.S. troops. She became Chief of the Army Nurse Corp in 1967 and was promoted to a one-star general in 1970, becoming the U.S. military’s first female general.
“It really was something to have stars on your shoulder, because a woman didn’t have those,” Hays recalled. “This was impossible. No one ever thought it was going to happen.”
She said enlisted men would salute her because of her higher rank, then do a double-take and salute again after seeing her general insignia.
General Hays made five notable changes for women in the military. One, she helped nurses get access to more education. Two, she got more nurses into overseas assignments. Three, she toughened the requirements for nurses to be admitted into the military. Four, she pushed for an elimination of the compulsory discharge for married officers who became pregnant. Five, she fought against the age of applicants’ children being a factor with women applying for the Army Nurse Corps Reserve.
Anna Mae Hays died Monday at a nursing home in D.C. and is survived by nieces and nephews. She was 97.
In 2013, after receiving a Living Legends Award from the Army Heritage Center Foundation, Hays gave a brief, heartwarming overview of her life. Take a look:
Rest in peace, General Hays. In other news, NBC has been faced with whether or not to show the National Anthem protest during their airing of the Super Bowl. Here’s their answer.