Nancy Leftenant-Colon
September 29, 1920

Nancy Leftenant-Colon, Major was the first African American nurse to serve in the reserve or active-duty Army/Air Nurse Corps, the precursor of the Air Force.

“I saw a picture of an Army nurse with her cape. She looked so good –straight and I tall. I wanted to do my part.”

Leftenant-Colon was born on September 29, 1920, and grew up in Amityville, NY, as one of thirteen (13) children of James Sr. and Eunice Leftenant, whose parents were slaves. From an early age Leftenant-Colon said she wanted to be a nurse to help others. Nancy Leftenant’s brother, Sam, served as a Tuskegee Airmen, who was believed to have been killed after a mid-air collision near Austria during World War II.

Nancy Leftenant-Colon, U.S. Army/Air Force Nurse Corps entered the U.S. Army in January 1945 as a reservist in the Army Nurse Corps. She completed her basic training at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin in the same year. In 1947, the Army and the Air Force separated into separate units. Second Lieutenant Leftenant-Colon elected to transfer to the Air Force. In 1948, while stationed at Lockbourne Air Force Base in Ohio, Leftenant-Colon became the first commissioned African American nurse to be integrated into the Regular Army Nurse Corps. Her admittance into the corps arose, in part, due to the civil rights initiatives of President Harry S. Truman’s Executive Order 9981, which established the beginnings of equality in the armed forces.

Major Nancy Leftenant-Colon wrote the forward for Stella’s Girl: The Autobiography of Captain Evelyn Decker, a World War II and Korean War Veteran. Captain Decker (1915-2008) entered the Army Nurse Corps in 1944, where she began a career that would make her a pioneer as the military under-went changes to reshape the Army. The Army Nurse Corps accepted a small number of African American nurses during World War II. In September 1945, after the war ended, nearly 500 African American nurses served in a corps of 50,000 because of a quota system mandated by the segregated Army during the first years of the war that limited the number of African American enlisted Service-members.

Major Nancy Leftenant-Colon in the forward for Captain Decker Major Leftenant-Colon wrote, “The African American women of the Army Nurse Corps selfless service and dedication proved that they had what it takes, not only in war, but in peacetime as well. They had courage. They persevered. Captain Decker’s story includes accounts of sadness, death, and success, but most importantly, she shares the efforts of African Americans who serve their county as members of the United States Armed Forces despite the attempts to exclude them.”

She later transferred to the Air Force and traveled the world as a flight nurse, served in the Korean and Vietnam wars, and retired as a major. She noted that while traveling through southern states that she had to take measures to protect herself such as while accessing the restroom and eating facilities. She noted that there was “always fear and discrimination; however, I was determined that it would not deter me.”

Nancy became a school nurse in New York. She is an initial member of the East Coast Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. having joined at its inception in 1973. Within the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. she served in the capacity of National Treasurer, First Vice-President and as the first female President of the Organization. She has received numerous awards including honorary degrees from the Tuskegee University and Mt. St. Vincent College in Riverdale, New York.

Sources:
AirForce.mil
East Coast Chapter TAI
LucasFilm.com
National Association of American Veterans

 

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