Ann Agnes Bernatitus was born January 1912 in Exeter, Pennsylvania and joined the United States Navy in 1936. In 1940 Bernatitus was assigned to the Philippines where she admits: “I had no idea what the Philippines looked like.”
Honoured with the Congressional Legion of Merit Medal, Bernatitus was the first ever person to receive this medal of distinction.
She would later said of her time as a nurse in the Philippines: “I never read up on it or anything, but life was very good out there… you went to work at eight o’clock and took lunch and never went back on duty.”
Bernatitus’s moment of glory came when she treated Filipino and American soldiers during the bombing of Bataan. She in fact was the only naval nurse assigned to the region during the height of the action. Among the 50 nurses who served during the Battle of Bataan, half were Filipino while the others were American.
Her dedication as an operating nurse in the battle torn district of Bataan, she worked tirelessly even during the bombing of the American field hospitals in the area. Just before the fall of Bataan to the Japanese, Bernatitus and other nurses were moved to the underground tunnels of Corregidor.
She was the last naval nurse rescued from the island by submarine. She arrived in Australia and returned home to serve in the US Navy till 1959. Ann Agnes Bernatitus died on March 3, 2003, at the age of 91.
Today a memorial stands in Exeter, Pennsylvania, in honour of her service and dedication to humanity. A painting of her also hangs in the Pentagon and her Congressional Legion of Merit Medal has been donated to the Smithsonian Institute and is on view there daily.