During World War II, women served in segregated units for women only. However, one woman stood out from the rest, making her way up the ranks and earning a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.
Working For The Army
Lt. Col. Cordelia “Betty” Cook was the middle child of five and was born in Fort Thomas, Kentucky, and went to Christ Hospital School of Nursing in Ohio to become a surgical nurse. She was commissioned by the Army and went to Europe to help the medical corps already there.
Cook was a bit of a workaholic and would not take leave even when offered to her. She was known as kind and compassionate.
Cook was working at a field hospital in Italy where the Germans had the strategic advantage during battles. Each time the Allies faced off against the Germans, it was brutal.
On Lt. Col. Cook’s first day at the field hospital, it was bombed. Even though she was was in grave danger, Cook worked diligently caring for those who were wounded.
Cook was transferred to the 11th Field Hospital in the Presenzano sector in 1944. Allies had landed there the year prior and made significant progress liberating Napels in a month.
They were also successful in keeping the German forces pinned down. But the 23 divisions of the German Army were reinforced to the tune of 215,000 troops in the south and 265,000 troops in the north.
The 11th Field hospital was in the middle of all the chaos. Every time Lt. Col. Cook went to work, she was at risk. For her work at the hospital, Cook was given the Bronze Star.
She was injured by shrapnel after being hit with German artillery fire and worked through her injury. Her bravery and commitment earned her the Purple Heart.
Lt. Col. Cook was the first woman to be awarded both the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. Over time, 1.8 million Purple Hearts have been awarded to service members. The medal was first awarded to service members in 1782.
After World War II, Lt. Col. Cook married an Army Captain and lived in Columbus, Ohio, with their three children. She continued to work as a nurse at Doctors Hospital North for thirty years.