American women became a permanent part of the U.S. military in 1948 when President Harry Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act. Prior to that, when the country was not at war, women could only serve in the Army or Navy nurse corps. During both world wars, however, the various branches of the military recruited women for non-combat service.
This didn’t keep servicewomen safe during wartime. In World War II, over 540 women died while on duty. Though most of those deaths were from accidents and illness, at least 16 of them were the result of enemy actions.
Twenty-four-year old 2nd Lt. Ellen Ainsworth was one of six nurses killed during the battle of Anzio.
(Ainsworth, on duty in Italy, is second from right.)
A member of the Army Nurse Corps working with the 56th Evacuation Hospital, Ainsworth was in Anzio, on the west coast of Italy, in early 1944. The Allies were still trying to wrest the country from the Germans, who put up bitter resistance.
On February 10, 1944, Ainsworth was working in a tent hospital on one of the beachheads the Allies had established. German plans bombed and strafed the area. Disregarding her own safety, Ainsworth stayed with her patients. A piece of shrapnel hit her in the chest, and she died six days later. For her bravery, Ainsworth posthumously received the Silver Star. She is buried in Italy.
2nd Lt. Ellen Ainsworth is one of many servicewomen who deserve to be remembered and honored on Memorial Day.