America's 'most decorated woman' fought from the Philippines to Korea

Ruby Bradley was an Army combat nurse on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed the island of Luzon in the Philippines. Bradley survived the attacks, days on the run, years as a prisoner of war, and years as one of the top combat nurses treating and evacuating the wounded from Korea.

She also rose to the rank of colonel and became one of America’s most decorated female veterans before retiring in 1963.

170411-DLN-Colonel_Ruby_G._Bradley,_US_Army_Nurse_Corps

Army Col. Ruby Bradley saved hundreds of lives as a prisoner of Japanese forces by stealing surgical tools and using them for 230 major operations. She also delivered 13 babies while in captivity. (Photo: U.S. Army)

Hours after the Pearl Harbor attacks began, other Japanese forces began striking U.S. troops and ships across the Pacific, including at bases in the Philippines which was a U.S. commonwealth at the time. Bradley ran a hospital in northern Luzon and treated patients there during the Japanese landings and follow-on attacks.

The 34-year-old evacuated the camp and hospital with other soldiers on Dec. 23 as the Army fell back. Bradley hid in the hills with another nurse and a doctor for five days before a local gave them up to the Japanese.

Los Baños Prison, POW, WWII

POWs interned by the Japanese in the Philippines were malnourished and subject to brutal conditions. (Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps)

For the rest of the war, Bradley was a POW. But she refused to stop treating the Americans and allies around her. The POW camp was established at Bradley’s former base, and she broke into the old hospital with a doctor and stole World War I-era morphine and a large number of surgical tools.

Their trip into the hospital had been risky. Japanese forces in World War II were known for treating prisoners harshly and for conducting sudden executions, but it paid off the very next day. Bradley took part in the emergency removal of an appendix the very next day.

170411-DLN-wwII-surgery-theater-bougainville

Surgery in the Pacific in World War II was challenging no matter the circumstances. (Photo: U.S. Army)

In a 1983 interview with the Washington Post, Bradley said of the incident, “The Japanese thought it was wonderful we could do all this without any instruments.”

Bradley assisted in hundreds of operations and the delivery of over a dozen babies during her time in captivity. None of the patients experienced an infection from their surgeries despite the conditions, most likely thanks to the firm attention to detail by the Army and civilian nurses who sterilized the area and tools before each procedure.

But Bradley didn’t just deliver babies, she also helped care for many of the children captured by the Japanese soldiers or born in the camp. Prisoners were allotted only one cup of rice per day. Bradley would save rice from her portions to give to children who were struggling.

The nurses even made birth certificates and stuffed animals for the children from hemp that they gathered from plants in and around the camp.

170411-DLN-Ruby-bradley-in-truck-evacuate-prison-camp-philippines

Then-Cpt. Ruby Bradley is evacuated with other prisoners from a Japanese POW camp after its liberation. (Photo: U.S. Army)

The medical staff established a number of other lifesaving measures in the prison camp — everything from forced hand washing to making sure utensils were covered when not in use to assigning people to swat flies.

When the war ended, Bradley returned to normal service and earned a new degree in nursing. By the time the Korean War broke out, she was a major with experience running nurse teams. She was sent forward with the 171st Evacuation Hospital from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and evacuated troops wounded in combat.

KOREAN WAR-medical-evacuation-helicopter

A U.S. soldier is evacuated by the Air Force 3rd Air Rescue Squadron in Korea. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

Her duties often took her to bases near the front lines. During the evacuation of Pyongyang, she refused to leave while any of her patients were still on the ground. She got the last one onto a plane and was running up the ramp when an artillery shell struck her ambulance.

Bradley later said, “You got to get out in a hurry when you have somebody behind you with a gun.”

The aircraft made it out safely and Bradley remained in the Army. The next year, she was featured on an episode of “This is Your Life,” a TV program that sought to tell the stories of amazing Americans.

She retired in 1963 as possibly the most decorated woman in military history to that point. She died on July 3, 2002, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

TOP ARTICLES
This is how Hanoi reacted to the epic Ken Burns 'Vietnam War' documentary series

Ken Burns' "Vietnam War" was released to relatively little noise in Vietnam. Here's a look at what audiences there had to say.

7 epic songs that prove 'Call of Duty' knows how to lay down tracks

Video game music has improved a lot since 8-bit days. A lot.

The Army is looking for ways to keep generals from misbehaving

Struggling with behavior problems among senior officers, the Army is putting together new mental health, counseling, and career management programs.

These are the heroics that earned this EOD Petty Officer a Silver Star

Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Bill Moran, recognized EOD 1st Class Thomas for his conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action against the enemy.

This why the national anthem is played before sporting events

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson ordered that the "The Star-Spangled Banner" be played at all military ceremonies and other various occasions.

The Navy wants this drone to extend its fighter range beyond 1k miles

The Navy is exploring how to use unmanned aircraft to extend the range of fighter jets by 1,000 miles. The concept, at this time, is called the MQ-25 Stingray.

How the Pentagon plans to spend $700M to drop drones

ISIS has been using drones to drop bombs on Iraq Security Forces, and the Department of Defense is looking for a better defense against them.

The third Invictus Games just kicked off in Toronto — and it's awesome

Competitors, celebrities, royalty, and spectators came together Sept. 23 to kick off the 2017 Invictus Games at the sold-out Air Canada Centre.

This was one of the world’s first swing-wing fighters

The Flogger was a ground-breaking plane for the Soviet Union.

This service's Gold Star program supports the military families that have lost

Gold Star family members are now offered Gold Star ID cards, which authorizes access to Air Force bases in the continental US, Alaska, and Hawaii.

THE MIGHTY SURVEY GIVE-AWAY

We want to hear your thoughts. Complete our survey for a chance to win 1 of 5 gaming consoles

COMPLETE SURVEY TO WIN