During World War II, the U.S. Army Air Corps pioneered military medical care through the development of air evacuations of wounded personnel. Contributing to this was 2nd Lt. Elsie S. Ott, a flight nurse on the first intercontinental air evacuation flight that demonstrated the potential of air evacuation. Born in 1913 in Smithtown, N.Y, Ott attended Lenox Hill Hospital School of Nursing in New York City after completing high school.
After several positions in area hospitals, Ott joined the Army Nurse Corps in September 1941. She was commissioned as a second lieutenant soon after and had assignments to Louisiana and Virginia before being sent to Karachi, India. It was during this assignment that she would participate in the first air evacuation. Originating from Karachi, India, patients were evacuated to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C.
Ott was assigned to the flight with only 24 hours’ notice. Prior to this she had no flying experience and had never flown before. She gathered blankets, sheets and pillows for the trip, but the only medical equipment available to her was nothing more than a first aid kit. No medical professional screened the patients who were to fly with Ott, and she and a sergeant with a medical background were the only people on board to care for patients.
The plane left Karachi with five wounded personnel Jan. 17, 1943. Of those five, two were paralyzed from the waist down, one suffered from tuberculosis, another with glaucoma and the fifth was suffering manic-depressive psychosis. After stops along the way for refueling, the plane reached its destination nearly a week after beginning — normally a three month trip by ship.
Ott knew that her report on the trip would be crucial for further planning, and she immediately sat down to make notes for future flights. Among the suggestions she listed were the need for oxygen, more wound dressing supplies, extra coffee and blankets. She also noted that wearing a skirt was impractical for this kind of duty.
Two months later, Ott received the first U.S. Air Medal, the first given to a woman in the U.S. Army, for her role in the evacuation flight. She would later be promoted to captain before being discharged in 1946. Nearly 20 years later in 1965, Ott was selected to christen a new type of air ambulance: the C-9 Nightingale.
We honor you, Elsie Ott.