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Ann A. Bernatitus
Ann A Bernatitus FOIA photo enhanced.jpg
Ann A. Bernatitus
First American recipient of the Legion of Merit
Born (1912-01-21)January 21, 1912
Exeter, Pennsylvania
Died March 3, 2003(2003-03-03) (aged 91)
Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania
Place of burial
St. Casimir's Cemetery, Pittston, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Navy Nurse Corps
Years of service 1936–1959
Rank US-O6 insignia.svg Captain
Battles/wars Battle of Bataan
Battle of Corregidor
Battle of Okinawa
World War II
Awards Legion of Merit w/ Combat V
Presidential Unit Citation (United States)
American Defense Service Medal (with star)
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal

Ann Agnes Bernatitus (21 January 1912 – 3 March 2003) was a United States Navy nurse who served during World War II. She was the first American recipient of the Legion of Merit


Ann Bernatitus was appointed as Ensign in the Navy Nurse Corps in 1936, after graduating from the Wyoming Valley Homeopathic Hospital Training School in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in 1934, and the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate Hospital post-graduate program in operating room nursing in 1935. Bernatitus's first assignments with the Navy were as a staff nurse at the Naval Hospitals in Chelsea, Massachusetts and Annapolis, Maryland.

In 1940, she was assigned duty on board the USS Chaumont (AP-5) before assignment to the US Naval Hospital at Canacao, Philippines Islands in July 1940. After the attack on Pearl Harbor and start of the Japanese war in the Pacific, Canacoa Hospital staff and patients were evacuated to Manila and Bataan under US Army supervision. As the lone Navy nurse on her team, Bernatitus treated American, Filipino, and Japanese wounded from the Japanese siege between December and April.

In October 1942, she became the first American recipient of the Legion of Merit for her heroism during the siege of Bataan and Corregidor from December 1941 through April 1942.

She was among the last group of the "Angels of Bataan" to be evacuated from the Philippines just prior to the fall of Corregidor aboard Spearfish and was the only Navy nurse stationed there to evade capture. She served at Bethesda Naval Hospital, New Orleans, Naval Hospital Great Lakes, and San Francisco, then in 1945, as Chief of Nursing Service aboard the hospital ship Relief during the Okinawa campaign.

She was promoted to the rank of Commander on 1 August 1950, and retired from the United States Navy Nurse Corps as a Captain in 1959.

She died at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on 3 March 2003, and was interred at St. Casimir's Cemetery Pittston, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.


Captain Bernatitus donated her Legion of Merit medal to the Smithsonian Institution in 1976.

A monument in her honor was dedicated 23 June 2007, at the Exeter Borough Building in her home town.


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