The trenches and battlefields of World War I are some of the last places one would expect to read about women who were decorated for valor. Yet, in the “War to End All Wars,” six women received medals for valor. Three received the Citation Star, the forerunner to the Silver Star, and three others received the Distinguished Service Cross – second only to the Medal of Honor in recognizing valor in action.
All were with the Army Nurse Corps at the time, one of the very few outlets women had to serve in the military. While medical units weren’t supposed to come under fire, these six women were among the nurses who did come under fire – and would distinguish themselves.
1. 2. Beatrice MacDonald Helen Grace McClelland
According to the Army Medical Department’s website, these two women earned the Distinguished Service Cross in the same action.
On Aug. 27, 1917, they were with British Casualty Clearing Station 61 in France when a German air raid hit the hospital.
MacDonald braved the fire to continue treating patients until a German bomb wounded her severely. McClelland then treated MacDonald’s wounds, despite continued German bombing.
MacDonald would survive, but lose her right eye. According to a 2012 release by Harvard University, she insisted on returning to duty despite the wound.
3. Isabelle Stambaugh
Stambaugh was at a British Casualty Clearing Station on March 21, 1918, when it came under attack from German planes. The bombing attack wounded Stambaugh, who continued to treat patients despite the wound, according to a 1919 New York Times report.
4. Jane I. Rignel
According to Military Medical, the first woman to earn a Silver Star (known as the Citation Star in World War I), was Jane I. Rignel. At 7:30 AM on July 15, 1918, Mobile Hospital 2 came under attack. Rignel aided in the evacuation of the patients while under artillery fire – and kept going until the hospital itself was shelled by the Germans.
5. 6. Linnie E. Lecknore Irene Robel
Military Medical reports that these two nurses received the Citation Star for their actions while part of an ad hoc unit known as Shock 134, attached to Field Hospital 127. When the hospital came under fire on July 29, 1918, they continued to treat wounded soldiers who were brought in.
The tale of the Silver Star recipients takes an ironic turn. While the recipients of the Distinguished Service Cross got recognition at the time in publications like the Journal of Nursing, the Citation Star recipients slipped through the cracks. The Silver Stars were eventually presented to the families of Jane Rignel and Linnie Lecknore.
No relatives of Irene Robel have come forward – and her Silver Star remains unclaimed.