Friday, April 10, 2009
Women in Service: Army/Air Force Capt. Lillian Kinkela Keil
For the next installment of our Women in Service series, American Veteran has chosen to highlight U.S. Army Air Corps Capt. Lillian Kinkela Keil, the most-decorated female veteran of WWII.
Keil served as a flight nurse during WWII and Korea, taking part in more than 400 combat casualty evacuation missions. According to her family, Keil was involved in the evacuation of more than 10,000 wounded American service members in some of the most pivotal battles of WWII and Korea. For her work, she was awarded 19 medals and ribbons, including four Air Medals and two Presidential Unit Citations.
Prior to joining the war effort, Kiel joined the nursing program at San Francisco's St. Mary's Hospital. She then served as a flight attendent for United Airlines until a passenger inspired her to volunteer for the military.
According to her Tidings obituary, following her death in July 2005, Keil's presence on casevac missions "represented home" for the wounded soldiers she would transport. Keil's daughter, Adrianne Whitmore, recalled that her mother would always keep up her personal appearance, regardless of the harsh conditions, to enstill a sense of hope in her patients.
Years later, Keil continued to recieve mail from wounded service members who recalled her bedside manner, as they were taken off the battlefield.
Keil's experiences with the 801st Medical Evacuation Squadron in Korea inspired the 1953 film "Flight Nurse." Keil is currently interned at Riverside National Cemetery in California.
(Photos: Top: U.S. Air Force photo of then-Lt. Lillian Kinkela of the U.S. Army Air Corps during WWII. Released. Bottom: U.S. Air Force photo of Keil alongside her plane. Released.)