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Colonel Ruby Bradley (December 19, 1907-May 28, 2002) was born near Spencer and taught for four years in one-room schools in Roane County. She became a nurse in 1933 and joined the Army Nurse Corps in 1934. She was serving in the Philippines when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the Philippines in less than 24 hours in December 1941, prompting the United States’ entry into World War II. She was captured three weeks later and spent more than three years as a prisoner of war.

At Santo Tomas Internment Camp in Manila, Bradley and several other captive nurses established a clinic to care for the sick and wounded prisoners. Bradley assisted in more than 230 major surgeries and delivered 13 American babies while a prisoner. When American troops liberated the camp in February 1945, Bradley weighed 86 pounds.

Bradley was a combat nurse in the Korean War, where she served on the front lines in evacuation hospitals. On one occasion, she refused to leave until she had loaded onto a plane all the sick and wounded while surrounded by Chinese snipers. She was the Eighth Army’s chief nurse from 1950 to 1953. Bradley became a colonel in 1958. She retired from the army in 1963 but remained a nurse.

Colonel Bradley was one of the most decorated women in U.S. military history. Her record included 34 medals and citations of bravery, most notably two Legion of Merit medals, two Bronze Stars, and a U.N. Korean Service Medal with seven battle stars. Bradley left Korea with a full-dress honor guard ceremony, the first woman to receive such a salute. She also received the Florence Nightingale Medal from the International Red Cross. Her hometown of Spencer recognized her with a parade and many tributes during ‘‘Ruby Bradley Day’’ in September 1991 and again in 2007 on what would have been her 100th birthday.

After Bradley’s death in a nursing home in Hazard, Kentucky, she was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

This Article was written by David F. Matthews

Last Revised on October 13, 2023


Hedges, David. Military Heroine Passes Away. Times Record, May 30, 2002.

Norman, Elizabeth M.. We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of the American Women Trapped on Bataan. New York: Random House, 1999.

"Ruby Bradley. Most Decorated Woman in U.S. Military History," Interview by Bob Dotson. NBC Nightly News. February 23, 2000.

Cite This Article

Matthews, David F. "Ruby Bradley." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 13 October 2023. Web. 22 July 2024.


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