In 1920, Anna Mae McCabe was born to Majors Daniel & Mattie McCabe in Buffalo, NY. Little could anyone know then what this middle child of Salvation Army Officers would someday achieve. But in keeping with our reverence for Memorial Day this month, her story is our Salvation Irony.
Anna Mae dreamed of becoming a nurse when she grew up. In 1939 she enrolled at the Allentown (Pennsylvania) General Hospital School of Nursing, graduating in 1941 with a diploma in nursing. With the onset of World War Two, she joined the U.S. Army Nurse Corps, and was sent to India to serve with the 20th Field Hospital.
The hospital was situated at the entrance to Ledo Road, which cut through the jungles into Burma. The buildings were made of bamboo. Dysentery, leeches, and snakes were common, especially during monsoon seasons.
While she worked in the malaria-infested China-Burma-India Theater, she commonly treated gangrenous patients who were building the roadway to enable the Allies in its war against the Japanese.
At one stretch she came down with malaria and while in hospital herself, she noticed a cobra under her bed. She calmly ordered a guard to shoot it and afterward said, “When one lives in the jungle, one can expect that sort of thing.”
When the war ended, she worked at hospitals in Fort Dix, New Jersey; Phoenixville, Pennsylvania; and For Myer, Virginia. But her nursing during peacetime here in the States was short-lived when the Korean conflict erupted.
Anna Mae was deployed in 1950 to the 4th Field Hospital in Inchon, which she later described conditions at the hospital there as “worse than those in India, because of cold temperatures in the operating room and a severe shortage of supplies.”
In the 14 months of her service in Korea, Anna Mae and six other nurses mended some 25,000 wounded and sick soldiers and sailors. On her days off, she assisted chaplains by playing a field pump organ for church services, often held near or at the front lines.
A few years after that war’s unofficial end, Anna Mae met and married William A. Hays (Mr. Hays died in 1962). Major Hays was transferred to Tokyo Army Hospital, and later came Stateside to continue her U.S. Army nursing career at Fort Sam Houston, Texas and Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, DC—during which she was selected as one of three private nurses for President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
By the time the Vietnam War was at its bloodiest, Anna Mae Hays held the rank of Colonel. In Vietnam, she supervised 4,500 nurses whose robust use of antibiotics, whole-blood transfusions, and speedy helicopter evacuations helped improve chances of survival.
Photo Credit: U.S. Army Medical Department, Office of Medical History,
No doubt Anna Mae’s parents would have been extremely proud of a daughter that spent her life nursing our Nation’s finest through three bitter wars. But we can also be sure that at least one more fact of her life would have given the McCabes a measure of pride—that after 1970, Salvationists everywhere can point to “one of our own” as the U.S. military’s first female general.
Soon after attaining such a high rank, General Anna Mae Hays ran into Kitsy Westmoreland, the wife of General William Westmoreland (Chief of Staff for the U.S. Army from 1968-1972).
“I wish you’d get married again,” Kitsy said to her friend.
When General Hays asked why, Kitsy snidely replied, “I just want some man to know what it’s like to be married to a general!”
General Anna Mae Hays paved the way for equal treatment of women in the military, countering occupational sexism, and made a number of landmark recommendations that were eventually accepted into military policy.
So during this month of May, while we pause to remember millions of sacrifices made by U.S. Veterans over the past 250 years of our nation’s existence, be sure to include this remarkable Salvation Irony.
—Major Frank Duracher, Assistant Editor, National Publications