Retired Col. Ruby Bradley, an Army nurse who became known as an “Angel in Fatigues” by caring for fellow captives while she was a prisoner of war in the Philippines during World War II, has died. She was 94.
Bradley, who served as a combat nurse during the Korean War and became the Army’s most highly decorated nurse, died Tuesday in Hazard, Ky., following a heart attack.
On Dec. 7, 1941, the 34-year-old Bradley was serving in the Philippines as a hospital administrator at Camp John Hay in Baguio, on Luzon Island, 200 miles from Manila.
After the Army evacuated and the Japanese took over the camp on Dec. 23, Bradley, a doctor and another nurse hid in the hills.
But they surrendered five days later after they were betrayed by a couple who helped hide them. They were sent to their former military post, by then a POW camp.
Bradley helped set up a dispensary, and at great risk she and a doctor smuggled drugs, including World War I-era morphine, and surgical instruments from the camp hospital.
“Three days after that, we had an appendectomy,” she told the Washington Post in 1983.
“The Japanese thought it was wonderful we could do all this without any instruments.”
To help a pregnant woman who went into labor, Bradley used a tea strainer and gauze to anesthetize her with ether.
During her 37 months in captivity, Bradley assisted in 230 major operations and the delivery of 13 babies.
In September 1943, Bradley was transferred to Santo Tomas Internment Camp in Manila, where she remained until it was liberated.
“A lot of people died in the last few months,” she said.
“There were several deaths a day, mostly the older ones, who just couldn’t take it.”
At the Santo Tomas camp, the military and civilian captives dubbed Bradley and the other imprisoned nurses who provided them with medical treatment “Angels in Fatigues.”
The POWs subsisted mainly on rice--half a cup in the morning and half a cup at night--but Bradley shared her limited rations with the children.
“I’d save part of my food for the children later in the day, when they started crying and being hungry,” she said.
Bradley also learned to be “a pretty good thief. I would take food and put it in my pockets for the children,” she said.
By the time the camp was liberated by the Americans on Feb. 3, 1945, the formerly 110-pound Bradley had shrunk to 84 pounds.
A native of Spencer, W.Va., Bradley grew up on the family farm.
She taught school before becoming a nurse in 1933. The following year, she joined the Army Nurse Corps as a surgical nurse.
After World War II, Bradley worked in several base hospitals and took advantage of an Army training program in which she earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing education from the University of California.
A month after the start of the Korean War in 1950, Bradley returned overseas, working as a combat nurse in evacuation hospitals as the 8th Army’s chief nurse.
At one point during the war, when thousands of enemy soldiers had overrun American troops and Bradley was dealing with wounded patients who had been ambushed five miles up the road, a plane was sent to evacuate her and her patients.
Bradley was the last one on the plane, jumping aboard just as her ambulance exploded from an enemy shell.
When she left Korea in June 1953, Bradley was given a full-dress honor guard ceremony, the first woman ever to receive a national or international guard salute.
When she got back to West Virginia, her home town staged a parade in her honor.
For her service in two wars, Bradley earned 34 medals, including two Legion of Merit medals, two Bronze Stars, the Philippine Liberation Medal and the International Red Cross’ prestigious Florence Nightingale Medal.
In 1958, Bradley became the third woman in Army history to be promoted to the rank of colonel.
Bradley, who never married, retired in 1963, and spent the next 17 years supervising a private-duty nursing service in Roane County, W.Va.
She was featured on Ralph Edwards’ “This is Your Life” in 1954. Despite her many honors, she told a reporter in 1991 that she never saw herself as anyone special.
“I want to be remembered as just an Army nurse,” she said.