Aleda E. Lutz

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Aleda E. Lutz
Lt. Aleda E. Lutz
Nickname(s) Lutzy
Born November 9, 1915
Freeland, Michigan, United States
Died November 1, 1944
Saint-Chamond, Loire, France
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch United States Army
Rank Lieutenant
Unit Army Nurse Corps
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Distinguished Flying Cross
Air Medal (4)
Purple Heart
European–African–Middle Eastern Campaign Medal
Red Cross Medal

Aleda E. Lutz (November 9, 1915 – November 1, 1944) was a United States Army flight nurse and one of the most celebrated women war heroes during World War II. Lutz was the first American woman to die in combat during World War II and, with the exception of Civil War Era Doctor Mary Edwards Walker, the highest decorated woman in the history of the U.S. military.

Early life[edit]

Lutz was born November 9, 1915 in Freeland, Michigan to German immigrants Friederich Georg Lutz and Margaretha Sybilla Lutz from Gunzenhausen, in Franconia, Germany.[1] Lutz grew up bilingual, a native English and German speaker, which would later maker her an asset during World War II.

Lutz was the youngest of 10 children and grew up on a farm that would later become part of the MBS International Airport, formerly known as the Tri-City Airport, that was built due to fears that the Detroit Airport, where combat aircraft were being built, could be a target for bombing.[2]

Lutz attended Wellman Country School through the 8th grade and Freeland School through the 10th grade. In 1933 she graduated from Saginaw Arthur Hill High School. In 1937 Lutz graduated from Saginaw General Hospital School of Nursing.[3]

Lutz was not alone in her military service to her country: her brother Adam fought in WWI, her brother Conrad joined the medical division during WWII, her nephews Theodore and Frederick joined the U.S. Army during WWII and her nephew Robert joined the peace-keeping force in Germany after WWII.

Lt. Aleda E. Lutz

World War II[edit]

In November 1941, Lutz enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. Lutz was stationed as a general duty nurse at Station Hospital at Selfridge Air Field, near Mount Clemens, Michigan.[4] All nurses in basic training at Selfridge Field were asked to volunteer for air nurse if they could pass the pilot's physical. Only two percent of 59,000 nurses in World War II were qualified flight nurses.[citation needed]

Lutz was promoted to 1st Lieutenant, effective December 17, 1943.[5]

Lutz was later transferred to the 802nd Medical Air Evacuation Transportation Squadron squadron of the 12th Army Air Forces, the first to depart for overseas duty. They were activated and sent to North Africa. The 802nd was a Medical Air Evacuation Squadron, the first unit of this type to serve in the war. This highly classified unit consisted of C-47 cargo planes which flew to the battlefront with ammunition and supplies and then took wounded-emergency cases back to the hospitals. It should also be noted that these planes flew without Red Cross insignias.

Aleda was in the 1st landing in Africa and on every American operation that went on around there. Lutz participated in six separate battle campaigns over a 20-month period, accompanied air combat missions, and conducted all-weather medical evacuations in Tunisia, Italy and France.[6]

They said that Lutzy, as she was called by her friends,[7] tried to win the war all by herself. When the weather wan't fit for humans and the overcast so heavy a bird couldn't navigate, Lt. Lutz would fly. Any place a pilot would fly, Lt. Lutz would fly. People said when the weather was terrible, and the C-47s bounced around and sank into air pockets and thrust their way through the nasty fronts of mountain country, at those times Lt. Lutz was calmest and at her best.

Not one of the 3500 she helped evacuate died under her hand. Through this demonstaration of her value as a flight nurse, she soon became one of the best liked members of the unit. An army nurse colleague recalls, "Aleda was the most wonderful person - everyone loved her. She was full of wit and humor. She was the best nurse I ever came in contact with - before or after the war."

As a flight nurse, Lutz flew in unmarked transport planes, which were used to carry supplies to front lines and transport patients backing out, making them legal targets for enemy fire. She once made four sorties in a single day onto the Anzio beachhead flight-strip while it was still under shell fire from the German army.[8]

On November 1, 1944, she was fatally injured in a Medevac C-47 crash near Saint-Chamond, Loire, France. The Medevac was transporting 15 wounded soldiers (6 German POW and 9 American soldiers) from Lyon, France to a hospital in Italy when the plane crashed. The official explanation was that a violent storm was encountered. The pilot lost control of the plane and it crashed on the side of Mont Pelat, the highest mountain in the westernmost part of the Mercantour National Park. Recent evidence, however, holds that the plane may have been shot down. There were no survivors. Lutz was 28 years old, and the only female on the plane. It is believed that Lutz volunteered for that flight, despite the perilous conditions.

Lutz was the first American woman to die in combat in World War II.[9] At the time of her death, Lutz was perhaps the most experienced flight nurse in the U.S. military service. She had the most evacuation sorties (196), most combat hours flown by any flight nurse (814) and the most patients transported by any flight nurse (3500+).[10]

Lutz was buried with full military honors in the Rhone American Cemetery and Memorial in Draguignan, France. Lutz is the only woman buried there.[11]


Lutz is one of the most highly decorated women in the United States Military. Lutz was awarded the Air Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters, European-African Theatre ribbon, and the Red Cross Medal. Lutz had five battle stars: Tunisia, Sicily, South Italy, Central Italy, and South France.[12]

Lutz was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross, the nation’s second highest military honor, making Lutz the second woman to receive the decoration after Amelia Earhart and the first award of its kind ever given to a woman in a World War. It was awarded for distinguished performance in an aircraft and was presented posthumously by President Franklin D. Roosevelt April 25, 1945. The official citation says in part: "For extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight as a flight nurse of a C-47 aircraft. Throughout her long period of service Lt. Lutz distinguished herself through her professional skill and courage. Flying on more than 190 missions to evacuate wounded personnel from the forward areas, Lt. Lutz's resourcefulness and determination have been of high inspiration to those serving with her."[13]

On April 3, 1945 Lutz was honored with an 800-patient hospital ship —the USAHS Aleda E. Lutz— dedicated by General George C. Marshall. The Aleda E Lutz was the largest mercy ship afloat and was the former French liner Columbia.[14]

On Jul 8, 1945 A C-47 was christened Miss Nightingale III in her honor.[15]

The Aleda E. Lutz Veterans Affairs Medical Center was dedicated in her memory in 1950 and on October 12, 1990 was rededicated as the Aleda E. Lutz Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center by Congressional Decree. The congressional resolution was first offered in 1949, but died in committee, mainly because she was a woman. There are currently two VA medical centers named for women.[16]

In 1993, Lutz was inducted into the Saginaw (Michigan) Hall of Fame and in 1994, she was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame in Lansing, Michigan.[17]

On Saturday, April 17, 2010 Lutz, along with four other former military members with Michigan connections will be enshrined into the Air Zoo's Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame.[18]

A stele (monument) exists at the crash site which states Lt. Lutz was the first American woman who died in action during World War II. The stele is near Doizieux, France on Mt. Pilat. The monument was erected in 2005 and every September there is a memorial service. A local citizen has written a book about the crash and has interviewed all the witnesses.

These honors, earned during her lifetime and posthumously, make Lutz the highest decorated woman in the military history of this country with the exception of Civil War Era Doctor Mary Edwards Walker, the sole female recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor.[19][20]


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