WWII Nurse Helped Many Wounded Soldiers, But Would Not Survive The Battle



Second Lieutant Ellen Ainsworth was to be shipped out with the US Army Nurse Corps during WWII. Before she left, she wrote on a friend’s yearbook, “When you make the football team, I’m going to be in the front row cheering you on.”

Ainsworth was 24 years old when she left her home in Glenwood City, Wisconsin. She never made it home in Anzio, Italy. It was here that she was assigned to the 56th Evacuation Hospital. It was here that she would be hit by enemy fire while caring for the wounded on February 10, 1944. She died six days later.

The president of the historical society in Ainsworth’s home town stated, “They called that evacuation hospital that she worked in a half acre of hell.”

After her death, Ainsworth was awarded a Silver Star, a Purple Heart, and the Red Cross Bronze medals.

When the air sirens sounded at Anzio, the patients who could move were told to crawl under their cots to avoid the flying shrapnel. Nurses and corpsmen stayed with those patients who could not move and they helped lower others to the ground.

As a shell hit the field hospital, Ainsworth and the corpsmen evacuated 42 patients to safety. They disregarded the dangers and completed the task. Ainsworth and three other nurses were the first women to receive the Silver Star for their bravery. Unfortunately, Ainsworth would not survive the blow she took to the chest by a piece of shrapnel. She is buried in the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery and Memorial in Nettuno, Italy.

Back in Glenwood City, the news of her death left the citizens heartbroken.

“Everybody knew about her,” Sally Berkholder said. “They knew her as the caring girl that loved to sing and had a beautiful voice.”

Dorothy Magnuson, 89 years old, was a classmate of Ainsworth. She tells CBS News that Ainsworth was friendly, kind, and dedicated to her studies. She was a young woman who wanted to be where the action was.

“She was a leader and a go-getter you might say,” Magnuson said.

Ainsworth joined the Army Nurse Corps after she graduated from nursing school in Minneapolis. The first place she was sent to was Tunisia. There she stayed for a few weeks. After Tunisia, she was deployed to Anzio. In Anzio, the American and British troops surprised the Germans by landing in their territory. Though surprised, the Germans refused to go easily and on one account given by an Army soldier, it was the most vicious battle of the WWII.

“When duty called she was there,” Magnuson said. “She had a full life for the short time she lived.”

Ainsworth has a portrait hanging in the Pentagon. She has a hall at a veterans home in King, Wisconsin, and the American Legion post in her home town that are dedicated to her.



Ainsworth’s siblings have passed away and the family’s home was sold. The new home owners were insulating the attic and they found Ainsworth’s Army knapsack and a bedroll.

Berkholder said the high school students from the Glenwood City School District have set a place at the new athletic field to commemorate the people who served in the military. The Glenwood City Historical Society and the American Legion are working to raise money to purchase a paving stone in her honor.

“Not only will the paving stone commemorate her military service, but I think it will bring a sense of closure to a small town in Wisconsin that still mourns her death even after all these years,” Berkholder wrote in nominating Ainsworth for recognition this Veterans Day. “Others may downplay the significance of a veteran’s memorial at the site of a new football field that was once a cow pasture, but I think Ellen would be honored. She will finally have her front row seat!”


Evette Champion

Evette Champion is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE