Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, no woman had received the Purple Heart for actions in combat. Annie G. Fox was an officer in the US Army Nurse Corps. She was the Station Hospital’s Head Nurse at Hickam Field. Fox was on duty as chief nurse at Hickman Field, Oahu, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Early Sunday morning on December 7th, Lt. Fox and the other nurses on duty were startled to hear the sounds of low flying planes, followed by the crashing of bombs and sounds of gunfire. Lt. Fox had been an Army nurse since the end of World War I, but the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor landed her in combat for the first time.
Soon after the first bombs were dropped, the casualties began pouring in. The chaotic situation quickly escalated as enemy airplanes flew lower and closer. Nurses tended to patients as bombs began falling nearer to the hospital itself, with one landing only yards away from the building, and another across the street. The casualties were so numerous that nurses had time only to administer pain medication before triaging them on to Trippler hospital.
As Head Nurse, Lt. Fox rallied the nurses and organized the hospital’s response to the assault. The wives of officers and other personnel reported to the hospital to help, and Lt. Fox organized the civilian volunteers to make hospital dressings and assist with patient care. Lt. Fox herself administered anesthesia during surgeries through the heaviest part of the bombardment. Afterwards, she assisted the other nurses in attending the wounded.
For her “outstanding performance of duty and meritorious acts of extraordinary fidelity…” she was awarded the Purple Heart medal. Her citation read:
“During the attack, Lieutenant Fox in an exemplary manner, performed her duties as head nurse of the Station Hospital. . . . [She] worked ceaselessly with coolness and efficiency and her fine example of calmness, courage, and leadership was of great benefit to the morale of all with whom she came in contact.”
Later, when the requirements for the Purple Heart were changed (now requiring that recipients be wounded in combat), Lt. Fox was awarded the Bronze Star for her bravery in the face of conflict at Pearl Harbor.
Four other Army nurses were also recognized for their performance during the attack. Captain Helena Clearwater, First Lieutenant Elizabeth A. Pesut, Second Lieutenant Elma L. Asson, and Second Lieutenant Rosalie L. Swenson each received the Legion of Merit “for extraordinary fidelity and essential service”.
To read about more heroes of Pearl Harbor, take a look at our posts on Doris Miller, and Lts. George Welch and Kenneth Taylor.