Each day, the VA honors a special military veteran for their dedicated service on their blog, VAntage Point. Today’s veteran is Army Veteran Elizabeth Jane Thurness, who was one of the inspirations for a character on the television series M*A*S*H.
Elizabeth Jane Thurness graduated from the Ohio State School of Nursing in 1936 and went to work as a district nurse for the city of Columbus, Ohio. In March of 1941 she enlisted in the Army and commissioned as a second lieutenant.
Thurness served as a nurse in Iceland, England, Germany, France and Austria during World War II, working in both evacuation hospitals and assisting victims rescued from concentration camps. After WWII, she was transferred to Japan to care for those injured in the blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
When Thurness returned to the United States, she received specialized training to be a nurse anesthetist, which led her to the Korean War, where she deployed as one of 13 Army nurses on the First Mobile Army Surgical hospital, traveling along the front lines treating wounded soldiers.
In October 1950, the 1st Mobile Army surgical Hospital came under attack, and Thurness helped treat the newly wounded with the other uninjured nurses. She was then moved to the Chinese border in November and treated soldiers wounded in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. She remained there until the evacuation of Hungnam in December.
Thurness later received a Bronze Star Medal for her actions.
After the Korean War, Thurness worked in a military hospital at Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, that specialized in treating burn victims and a military hospital in Heidelberg, Germany.
Thurness then returned to the United States and received her bachelor’s degree in nursing education from the University of Pittsburgh. She became a nurse at Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland in 1959 and spent the remainder of her career there teaching doctors and working in anesthesiology. Thurness retired from the military in 1965 as a lieutenant colonel.
Thurness is considered to be one of three nurses who inspired the character Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan on the television series M*A*S*H.
Thurness died in 2003 at the age of 87.
We honor her service.