Outstanding African American NC nurses who served in the armed forces


Mattie Donnell Hicks Korean War Nurse
            After World War II ended in August 1945, the nation returned to peaceful pursuits. On July 26, 1948, President Truman signed Executive Order 9981, abolishing racial segregation in the armed forces. In June 1950, North Korea, a small Asian nation of little concern to most Americans, launched a surprise invasion of its neighbor to the South. The United States was once again at war, fighting alongside its ally, South Korea. Many active duty nurses were unexpectedly called to scene of battle. One of the North Carolina nurses responding to this call was Mattie Hicks.
            Mattie Donnell Hicks was born in Greensboro, North Carolina on September 2, 1914, to John and Josephine Donnell. She was one of ten children. Pursuing her childhood dream to become a nurse, after graduating from the all African American Dudley High School, she enrolled at the Grady Hospital School of Nursing in Atlanta, Georgia. Three years later she earned her diploma and began her career at a segregated, rural hospital in Gainesville, Georgia.  
            Hicks “wanted to do something different in going into the military to try to help the soldiers with their wounds and all that”. She joined the Army Nurse Corps on July 2, 1945 but served only a few weeks until World War II ended in August 1945. However, Hicks realized she enjoyed Army nursing so she re-enlisted in March 1946 and stayed for twenty one years.
            When the Korean War broke out, Hicks was assigned to the 11th Evacuation Hospital in Wonju, Korea on the eastern battlefront. During the war, approximately 540 Army Nurses served on the ground in Korea. Many of these nurses served in the newly created Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals (MASH) units close to the front. Seriously wounded and ailing troops were air lifted to awaiting Navy hospital ships or evacuated to Army Hospitals in Japan and the United States for more intense treatment than was available in MASH units or evacuation hospitals. Hicks and other nurses in Evacuation Hospitals took wounded soldiers from the MASH units and provided more extensive care until the men could either rejoin the battle or be evacuated from the country. She recalled in an oral history interview in 1999
            We enjoyed our work very much. One thing, we were kept busy because patients would be coming right off the battlefield because they had the helicopters to pick them up, bring them right to the hospital which saved a lot of their lives … whenever a shipment would come in, you’d work … if they were in real bad shape, they would ship them on right away. But if they were not in too bad shape, they would stay right there and we’d take care of them.
            Each Evacuation Hospital had a specialty area. The 11th Evacuation Hospital had a renal insufficiency unit and pioneered the use of renal (kidney) dialysis. Hicks and her colleagues at the 11th Evacuation Hospital were among the first nurses to support patients with hemorrhagic fever on the first generation of artificial kidney machines. In addition to patients with renal disease and battlefield wounds, Hicks and her colleagues provided general car for soldiers and their family members with a variety of ailments. She recalled civilians coming to the hospitals with tuberculosis and gastro-intestinal distress.
“We had to run a tube down their throat and clean – and get all the fluid and stuff out of their stomach. And you know, through that tube live worms would come through, Live!”
            When asked about her social situation in Korea, including homesickness, cold temperatures, Spartan accommodations and serving in one of the first integrated units in US armed forces history, Hicks remembered, “when you’re afraid, as most of us were, being in a theater where they were fighting and all that, you kind of act like a family”.
            After her tour in Korea, Hicks served wherever the Army Nurse Corps needed her. Her postings included hospitals in Japan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Germany and North Carolina. She worked in medical surgical nursing and obstetrical nursing. The medals she earned for her courage and service including the World War II Victory Medal, the Korean Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, and Army Commendation Medal, the Armed Service Reserve Medal, a Meritorious Unit Citation and a United Nations Service Medal.
            In March, 1966 Hicks retired from the Army having earned the rank of major. She returned home to Greensboro and built a home. After her years of travel she was ready to spend time with her extended family and childhood friends. She was dedicated to her church spending many hours serving on committees, in the choir and helping fellow congregants in need. Hicks passed away on March 14, 2004.

Clara Adams-Ender
And so my father said, “No, no, no, no, no, no. You will not be a lawyer. Lawyers are liars, and that's best left to men.” That's literally what he told me. So he decided that I should go to nursing school. Basically what he said was, “You should do something safe in this life, because women ought to do something safe.” And he said, “They just opened that new nursing school up in Greensboro, and you need to apply there.”[24]
            Brigadier General Clara L. Adams-Ender of Willow Springs, North Carolina entered college in 1956 pursuing a profession in nursing after a suggestion from her father to forget her dream of being a lawyer. Little did Clara, or her father know was that her future would be a prestigious one as a nurse in the United States Army. Clara’s vocation changed halfway through college once she entered the Army to finish paying for nursing school. Little did her father truly know that Clara L. Adams-Ender would break down many barriers and become a woman of “firsts,” in the United States Army.
            Adams-Ender was born to Caretha Bell Sapp Leach and Otha Leach. The fourth child of ten, Adams-Ender grew up in a family of sharecroppers.[25] Adams-Ender earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. She entered the army's student nurse program to help pay her final two years of nursing school.[26] Upon her graduation in 1961, she was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps. Beginning her career with the Army, Adams-Ender received training at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam in Houston, Texas. Adams-Ender was assigned overseas, beginning in 1963, as a staff nurse for the 121st evacuation hospital in the Pacific theater near North Korea; she later served in Germany.[27] Clara quickly rose through the ranks and became a Brigadier- General.
            In 1967, she became the first female in the Army to qualify for, and be awarded the Expert Field Medical Badge. Brigadier General Adams received a Master of Science in Nursing degree from the University of Minnesota in 1969. At the University of Minnesota is where she developed her fond love of teaching that directly carried into her professional life as a nurse and instructor of nurses.
            “the army was opening a school of nursing … because this was Vietnam and we needed to get more nurses out. So the army had opened this school of nursing … and I was going there to get my master's degree so that I could teach in that school, because I had already made known the fact that I wanted to teach there.”[28]
            From this degree she would move to teach at Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing and remained there as an instructor for five years. Clara received a Master of Military Arts and Sciences degree from the US Army Command and Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas in 1976, the first woman ever to earn such a degree.
            In 1982, Adams-Ender became the first African American Army Nurse Corps officer to graduate from the U.S. Army War College. She was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General in 1987 and appointed Chief of the Army Nurse Corps. Following this post, Adams-Ender served as the Commanding General, U.S. Army Fort Belvoir, Virginia and Deputy Commanding General, U.S. Army Military District of Washington until her retirement in August 1993.[29]
            Among the awards bestowed on Adams-Ender are the Distinguished Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters, Army Commendation Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, Expert Field Medical Badge, and the Army Staff Identification Badge.[30] She also earned while in Germany its Cross of Honor in Gold.[31]
            After retirement, Adams-Ender also served as the President of Caring About People With Enthusiasm (CAPE) Associates, Inc., and published her autobiography, My Rise to the Stars: How a Sharecropper's Daughter Became an Army General, in 2001.[32] Adams-Ender was a woman of firsts. She was the first woman in her family to join the Army (two of her brothers had already joined some portion of the armed services); she was the first female in the Army to qualify for, and be awarded the Expert Field Medical Badge; she was the first woman to earn a Master of Military Arts and Sciences; she became the first African American Army Nurse Corps officer to graduate from the U.S. Army War College, and became the first army nurse to command a major army base in 1991 of Fort Belvoir in Virginia.
            Her personal life consisted largely of her professional life. Clara married Heinz Ender in 1981 whom she had met while stationed in Germany, an oral surgeon and orthodontist. They later had a son named Sven Ingo. Clara excelled a long way from her days as a sharecropper on a tobacco farm in Wake County, North Carolina. She had risen to be one of the most well respected nurses and Army-women of the United States Armed Forces.
            “The lessons [I learned in overcoming obstacles] were to be courageous, strong in your convictions, and never lose sight of the main goal. As I reflected, overcoming obstacles had been the story of my personal life and my career. Obstacles had really been opportunities to excel."[33]