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General Anna Mae (McCabe) Hays

When  we generally  think of  someone  who is a General we see a stern, rigid commanding officer. Well, not in this Amazing Woman! 

Anna Mae  
was  born  to  Daniel  and Mattie McCabe  on Feb 16, 1920,   in  Buffalo,   New York.   Both her parents served  in  the  Salvation  Army  and the values of service and  religion,   as well as music,  featured  strongly  in the family.

She played  the  piano,  the organ,  and  the  French horn and would have liked to study music after completing high school  in  Allentown,  Pennsylvania.   As  funds  were not available,  she decided  to pursue nursing instead,  a field that she had also been interested in from a young age

Anna Mae  enrolled  at  the  Allentown  General  Hospital School  of Nursing and was the first student at the school to  obtain  her  Diploma  in  Nursing with Honors in 1941. 
The year 1941 was also the year in which the US entered the World War II, and joining thousands of other young men and woman in service of the country, Anna signed up with the Army in May 1942.

In January 1943, she joined the war effort, and instead of being posted to Europe as anticipated, she found herself in India serving with the 20th Field Hospital at the entrance to the Ledo Road which cut through the jungle to Burma. The conditions at the hospital were extremely primitive.

After the war, Anna Mae chose to remain in the Army Nursing Corps, serving in various hospitals until she became one of the first nurses to be deployed to serve in the Korean War in 1950. According to Anna Mae, the conditions at the 4th Field Hospital in Inchon were worse in many respects than in India. In fourteen months, she and 31 other nurses cared for more than 25,000 patients, with as many as 700 patients admitted in one night. At times they would spend hours on end in the operating room, getting as little as three hours sleep a night.

Anna Mae Hays- Living Legend Award Acceptance
   A glimpse into the humbleness of this woman...

Besides having insufficient supplies, “We had no water. It was so cold we wore whatever clothing we could. And because there was almost no firewood it was almost impossible to keep warm.” 

Anna Mae however also acknowledged the many advances since World War II – antibiotics, whole blood, as well as rapid evacuation by helicopter. As she had also done in India, she spent some of her off-duty time playing a field pump organ for church services – including on the front lines.

In 1956, she met and married William A. Hays, who directed sheltered workshops and providing employment for the disabled. Sadly, her husband passed away only six years later.

She was appointed as assistant chief of the ANC in 1963 and after being promoted to the rank of Colonel in 1967, she became Chief of the Corps.
This was the period of the US Army’s most active involvement in the Vietnam War and Anna Mae led the ANC during one of the most stressful eras of US Military History. She traveled to Vietnam three times to monitor the situation on the ground for the 4,500 strong nursing corps stationed there.

Anna Mae was a forward-looking leader who steered the ANC through an era of rapid modernization and used her influence to improve service conditions for all women in the armed forces.
Anna Mae  was  a   leading  force  in   achieving   significant personnel   policy   change   for   women    in    the    armed  forces.    These included  for women  not to be automatically discharged  from  service   when    they  became   pregnant; allowing  women  with younger  children  to  be appointed to the   Army   Nurse   Corps   Reserve;   and    also   granting  husbands  of  female  service members the same privileges  enjoyed by the wives of male members.

In June 1970, she was promoted to the rank of brigadier general  by   President  Richard  Nixon,   thereby  becoming 
the first female general in the US Army. This had been made possible by changes in legislation only three years earlier. In her address during the promotion ceremony, Anna Mae said that the general stars “reflect[ed] the dedicated, selfless, and often heroic efforts of Army nurses throughout the world since 1901 in time of peace and war.”

On retirement in 1971, Anna Mae was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal during a Pentagon reception in her honor. “Well, I have to be very honest, one day being responsible to The Surgeon General for 21,000 men and women, […] and then the next day, not having any responsibility, is quite an adjustment to make” she commented during an interview. However, she did remain involved to some extent in the ANC and became active in professional affairs, issues in her hometown, and various retiree groups. In 2012 she was named one of the country’s outstanding citizens of the 20th Century a Lehigh County’s bicentennial in 2012.

Anna Mae Hays passed away on January 7, 2018, from complications of a heart attack at the age of 97. Three days later, on the order of Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf, the state flag at the Capitol Complex and all state facilities in Allentown was flown at half-staff in her honor.

Compiled & Contributed by Admirer Carolyn Shannon
Read In depth Tribute by Frieda Paton


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