Kentucky’s heroic, historic nurse

Jan. 7, 2011 | By kentuckyguard
MJO Permission to re-publish by the Gleaner (story by Frank Boyett, the Gleaner) [caption id="attachment_4866" align="alignleft" width="253" caption="File photo of Nurse Mary W. Arvin. (photo courtesy of Kentucky command historian)"] A Henderson nurse who is Kentucky's most highly decorated female veteran of World War I will be getting some recognition in the near future. A historical marker honoring Mary W. Arvin will be unveiled Friday evening at the Galt House in Louisville during the Kentucky Women Annual Veterans Experience. Arvin earned the first Purple Heart ever awarded to a woman. "There are all these female Kentucky veterans, past and present, who are going to be present," said John Trowbridge, command historian for the Kentucky National Guard, who has been trying to get recognition for Arvin since 2005, when he was manager of the Kentucky Military History Museum. "I'm excited that we're finally getting this done," he said. "The bottom line is to honor our Kentucky veterans, especially the women ones. So many women don't realize the significant role they played in military service. They were always kind of behind the scenes in support roles, and so many felt their roles weren't as important as the guys on the front lines. So this is really important to recognize one of those forgotten heroes."
Arvin was born here in 1879 and had 12 years experience as a nurse before she joined the Red Cross in June 1917 and went overseas, according to Trowbridge's research. She came under enemy fire at least twice when German planes bombed field hospitals where she was working. The first bombing, on Sept. 4, 1917, resulted in America's first casualties of the war. But it was during another bombing June 30, 1918, that she demonstrated the cool-headedness under fire that led to her being awarded medals by America, Great Britain and France. She stuck to her post and kept her patients calm during the bombing, resulting in a congratulatory citation from Gen. John "Black Jack" Pershing, the commander of the American Expeditionary Force. That commendation translated into a Purple Heart when that medal was revived in 1932. There is no evidence she was ever wounded. She also was one of 28 American nurses to receive a Croix de Guerre from France and one of 56 to receive a British Royal Red Cross from the hands of Prince Edward, who was later briefly king before abdicating. Arvin died in 1947 and is buried in Fernwood Cemetery. Trowbridge is hoping the historical marker can be erected there by the Transportation Cabinet this spring, accompanied by "some kind of simple ceremony. The weather's going to dictate that."
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