Elizabeth Ann Pesut Maes

1914 - 1993

Korean WarWWII

Their Story

Elizabeth Ann Maes was born on May 14, 1914, in Indianapolis, Indiana, to Joseph and Katherine Grbac Pesut, who were both born in Yugoslavia and spoke Croatian.[1] Joseph and Catherine immigrated to the U.S. in 1903 and 1910, respectively. She had three sisters and two brothers: Mary, Mathilda, Josephine, John, and Joseph. In 1930, they still lived in Indianapolis, where Elizabeth graduated from high school. She graduated from St. John’s Academy in 1932, the first Catholic high school in Indianapolis.[2] She was a 1935 graduate of St. Vincent Hospital School of Nursing, in Indianapolis.

In 1940, Elizabeth was single, in the Army living in El Paso, Texas, and working at William Beaumont General Hospital as a nurse.[3] She had joined the Army November 3, 1938.[4] Before entering the Army Nurse Corps (ANC), Elizabeth worked at the VA in Los Angeles for two years.[5] She was also a nurse in Indianapolis, Anderson, and Lafayette, Indiana, prior to that.[6] On March 24, 1941, Elizabeth arrived for duty in the Hawaiian Department aboard the Army Transport Etolin from San Francisco. She was assigned to the Army Nurse Corps at Tripler General Hospital at Fort Shafter.[7] Just eight months later, she was chief nurse at the hospital on that fatal December day when the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor and caused many casualties.

Tripler had a 450-bed capacity at that time, which was not enough to handle the many patients sent to it.[8] Tripler took extra causalities from Hickam Field and other hospitals’ overflow patients. Second Lt. Elizabeth Pesut was in the operating room and remembers injured men lying in the hallways awaiting treatment. They had large, red letters drawn on their foreheads: Ms to indicate they had been given morphine, Ts to indicate they had been given tetanus shots.[9] Later in the day they painted the windows blue in preparation for the blackout. When told light could still be seen from the outside, they nailed blankets over the windows.

From the Army Nurse Corps booklet: “The Army Nurse Corps listed fewer than 1,000 nurses on its rolls on 7 December 1941, the day of the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Eighty-two Army nurses were stationed in Hawaii serving at three Army medical facilities that infamous morning. Tripler Army Hospital was overwhelmed with hundreds of casualties suffering from severe burns and shock.[10] The blood-spattered entrance stairs led to hallways where wounded men lay on the floor awaiting surgery. Army and Navy nurses and medics worked side by side with civilian nurses and doctors. As a steady stream of seriously wounded servicemen continued to arrive through the early afternoon, appalling shortages of medical supplies became apparent. Army doctrine kept medical supplies under lock and key, and bureaucratic delays prevented the immediate replacement of quickly used up stocks. Working under tremendous pressure, medical personnel faced shortages of instruments, suture material, and sterile supplies. Doctors performing major surgery passed scissors back and forth from one table to another. Doctors and nurses used cleaning rags as face masks and operated without gloves.”  To learn more about the Army Nurse Corps, visit https://history.army.mil/books/wwii/72-14/72-14.htm.

By the end of the day on December 7, fatalities from two hours of airstrikes on Pearl Harbor had risen to 2,400.[11] Most of the dead were military men, the majority from USS Arizona, with another 429 from USS Oklahoma (BB-37). Throughout World War II, Tripler averaged almost 2,000 patients per day requiring treatment for injuries and illnesses sustained in the Solomon Islands, the Marianas, the Philippines and other Pacific battlegrounds.

First Lt. Elizabeth A. Pesut was one of the first five of St. Vincent’s graduates to earn the Legion of Merit Award.[12] The War Department announced June 18, 1943, the award of legion of merit – the first time for such an award to be made by the Army to women – to five members of the Army Nurse Corps.  The citation read:

For exceptionally meritorious service as supervisor of the operating suite, Tripler General Hospital, on 7th December 1941. First Lieutenant Pesut, in expanding the facilities of the operating services to care for an exceptionally large number of battle casualties, exhibited outstanding ability, extraordinary fidelity to duty and rendered essential services under the most difficult circumstances, contributing largely to the saving of lives and reflecting great credit upon the medical department, United States Army.”

She was awarded the Legion of Merit medal for her services as chief surgical nurse at Tripler Hospital during and after the attack on Pearl Harbor.[13] Lieutenant, junior grade Ann A. Bernatitus, a U.S. Navy Nurse Corps officer, was the first woman and the first member of the United States Armed Forces to receive the Legion of Merit in October 1942.[14]

Elizabeth Pesut was promoted to major in 1945 after serving in Honolulu from 1941 until February 1945 when she was transferred to the Marianas.[15] During World War II, a series of Japanese air attacks on the Mariana Islands took place between November 1944 and January 1945. These raids targeted United States Army Air Forces bases and sought to disrupt the bombing of Japan by B-29 Superfortress heavy bombers operating from the islands.[16]

On Saipan, the 369th Station Hospital was not luxurious. Water was in short supply. Rainwater was used for bathing. Only a few patients each day could be bathed, while others had only their faces and hands washed. Civilians were often the worst cases as they had suffered under the occupying Japanese. Aided by the 148th Station Hospital, the nurses treated more than 20,000 cases of dengue fever.

Saipan also received thousands of casualties from the Battle of Iwo Jima. Teams were organized to administer plasma and whole blood to the many shock cases from that battle. The 369th Station Hospital’s 83 nurses found themselves caring for 1,342 patients. As if that was not overwhelming enough, an epidemic of food poisoning knocked out so many nurses and other medical staff that Military Police had to be called in and instructed on how to care for the wounded while the medical staff recovered.

Shortly afterwards, the campaign for Okinawa began. The huge number of casualties from these campaigns meant that the nurses worked twelve-hour days. Understaffed and overcrowded, nurses performed many procedures usually reserved for doctors.[17] They treated many patients for severe shock and set up special wards for burn patients who had been on oil tankers destroyed by Japanese suicide planes.

In October of 1945, Elizabeth, after serving 4 ½ years in the Pacific, including service on Saipan, returned home on furlough to Indianapolis.  She had been chief nurse of the West Pacific base command for the ANC. She wore the American Defense Ribbon and the Asiatic-Pacific ribbon with two battle stars.[18] At that time her brother John was in the Air Force in England, brother Joseph was in Seattle, Washington, serving as a Seaman 3C, and Tillie (Mathilda) was a pharmacist’s mate 3C, WAVE, in Honolulu. Brother Joseph also served in the South Pacific as a signalman 3C.

The Marriage License for Elizabeth and Henry
The Marriage License for Elizabeth and Henry

In 1956, Elizabeth’s father, Joseph, died when Elizabeth was living in Tacoma, Washington.  Brother John was a MSGT and serving in Munich, Germany, at that time. Elizabeth was discharged from the Army December 31, 1958.[19]

Army Nurse Corps nurses were required to be unmarried prior to October 1942. Elizabeth was unmarried until 1959 when she married Col. Henry Edward Maes April 8, 1959, in San Antonio, Texas, when she was 44 and he was 39.[20].   He was an optometrist in the Army, getting his PhD from the Illinois College of Optometry in 1949.[21] From 1956-1959, he was an optometrist at Camp Zama, Japan. He also served in Vietnam.[22] He was born in Moline, Illinois. He died in 1983 and is also buried at the Rock Island National Cemetery. 

Elizabeth died at Friendship Manor in Rock Island, Illinois, November 14, 1993. She is buried at the Rock Island National Cemetery.

https://blogs.stockton.edu/womeninwwtwo/womens-military-involvemnt/womens-nurse-corps/ Image of Army Nurse Corps recruitment poster from this website

Legion of Merit | American military decoration | Britannica  Legion  of Merit image from this website

Army Register, 1956, Volume 1 U.S., Select Military Registers, 1862-1985 – Ancestry.com
Pesut, Elizabeth Anne N258 B-Ind 14 May A-Ind LM Grad Med Fld Sch Adv Nurse Crse 55 2lt ANC 3 Nov 38 to Maj AUS 6 Feb 45 RA 1lt ANC 8 Aug 47 D/R 28 Nov 41 to Capt 28 Nov 45 PL 493


[1] 1930 United States Federal Census – Ancestry.com

[2] 27 May 1932, Page 9 – The Indianapolis Star at Newspapers.com

[3] 1940 United States Federal Census – Ancestry.com

[4] U.S., Veterans’ Gravesites, ca.1775-2019 – Ancestry.com

[5] 03 Sep 1936, Page 6 – The Indianapolis Star at Newspapers.com

[6] 18 Jun 1943, Page 11 – The Indianapolis Star at Newspapers.com

[7] 24 Mar 1941, 13 – Honolulu Star-Bulletin at Newspapers.com

[8] Tripler; Past and Present

[9] Remembering Pearl Harbor The Dispatch Moline 7 Dec 1991 p23 – Newspapers.com

[10] The Army Nurse Corps

[11] Pearl Harbor: Paradise Under Attack

[12] 18 Jun 1943, Page 1 – The Indianapolis Star at Newspapers.com

[13] 18 Jun 1943, Page 1 – The Indianapolis Star at Newspapers.com

[14] The Legion of Merit – American Medals & Awards, WW2 (identifymedals.com)

[15]Local Nurse Promoted The Indianapolis Star 4 Mar 1945p7 – Newspapers.com

[16] Japanese air attacks on the Mariana Islands – Wikipedia

[17] The Pacific Theater – American Military Nurses in World War II (google.com)

[18] 21 Oct 1945, Page 15 – The Indianapolis Star at Newspapers.com

[19]U.S., Veterans’ Gravesites, ca.1775-2019 – Ancestry.com

[20] Texas, U.S., Select County Marriage Records, 1837-1965 – Ancestry.com

[21] Books.google.com/books Army Research and Development, p. 10 – February 1968

[22] 11 Dec 1983, 6 – The Dispatch at Newspapers.com