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Tuskegee nurse first African-American in Army Nurse Corps

(U.S. Air Force graphic/Sylvia Saab)

(U.S. Air Force graphic/Sylvia Saab)

FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. (AFNS) -- An operating room nurse in North Carolina during the early days of World War II would become the first African-American nurse commissioned as a lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps and the first nurse to become part of the famed Tuskegee Airmen.

Della H. Rainey was born in Suffolk, Virginia, on January 10, 1912. A graduate of the Lincoln Hospital School of Nursing in Durham, N.C., Rainey, in civilian life, had been the operating room supervisor at Lincoln Hospital in Durham.

She was the first African-American nurse to enter the Army Nurse Corps at Fort Bragg, N.C., and was promoted to chief nurse at Fort Bragg in 1942 before a transfer to the station hospital at Tuskegee Air Field, Ala. When a chief nurse job opened up at Fort Huachuca's station hospital in 1943, she filled it, but soon moved on to Camp Beale, Calif. After the war she served in the occupation force in Japan and retired from the Army as a major, the highest rank to be achieved by any African-American nurse in World War II.

As a lieutenant serving at Tuskegee Army Airfield, she was appointed Chief Nurse, Army Nurse Corps in 1942, the first African American to be so appointed. She later served as Chief Nurse at Fort Huachuca, Ariz.

Rainey was promoted to captain in 1945. After the war, she was assigned to head the nursing staff at the station hospital at Camp Beale. In 1946, she was promoted to major and served a tour of duty in Japan. Major Rainey retired in 1978.

Today, there is a Della H. Rainey Nursing Scholarship that was established by the Tuskegee Airmen Scholarship Foundation and the National Black Nurses Association for nursing students enrolled in at least their sophomore year at an accredited BSN degree program.

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