Colonel Ruby Bradley became a nurse in 1933 and joined the Army Nurse Corps in 1934. She was serving as hospital administrator at Camp John Hay in the Philippines when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Captured three weeks later, she spent more than three years as a prisoner of war. She was eventually interned with other prisoners of war at the Santo Tomas Internment Camp in Manila.
During her time at Santo Tomas, Bradley and fellow nurses established a clinic to care for sick and wounded prisoners. She assisted in over 200 major surgeries and delivered 13 babies. There was little to eat; POWs were rationed 1/2 cup of rice twice a day, and Bradley shared hers, including with many children in the camp, giving them most of her own rations. She lost so much weight that she was able to smuggle in medical equipment and supplies under her clothing without being noticed. By the end of the war she weighed only 84 pounds. POWs called her and her fellow nurses “Angels in fatigues.”
After the war, Bradley went back to school, earning a BS degree in nursing education from the University of California. But she was again called to serve during the Korean War.
Bradley was the Army’s chief nurse for the 171st Evacuation Hospital in 1950. During the Chinese counter-offensive in November of 1950, she refused to evacuate until all the sick and wounded had been loaded on to a plane out of Pyongyang. She jumped aboard the plane just as an enemy shell struck her ambulance.
When she left Korea in 1953, Bradley was given a full-dress honor ceremony. She was the first woman to receive such an honor.
Bradley became only the third woman to be promoted to Colonel in 1958. She retired in 1963, and spent the next 17 years as supervising nurse at a private facility. She received 34 medals for her service, including two Legion of Merit medals, two Bronze Stars, the Philippine Liberation Medal and the International Red Cross’ prestigious Florence Nightingale Medal. 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.