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Air Force Museum Foundation

Aeromedical Evacuation: Speed Saves Lives


"When they take care of you like that, you don't mind fighting."
- Wounded 8th Army soldier on his evacuation by air

The method of evacuating sick and wounded troops improved during the Korean War. Air transport of wounded was used in World War II, but in Korea a larger proportion of patients were evacuated by air, increasing the expectation of survival. The increasing availability and speed of air transport saved thousands of lives.

Medical evacuation at the beginning of the Korean War was based on ground and sea transport. Upon his arrival in August 1950, Brig. Gen. William H. Tunner directed his staff to study the possibility of air transport as a standard procedure for moving wounded and sick troops. The technique became known as aeromedical evacuation.

By October 1950, Combat Cargo transports began returning injured personnel to Japan or airfields in South Korea according to a centralized control plan. The Air Force's Military Air Transport System (MATS) assumed responsibility for airlifting patients from Japan back to the United States. In flight, Air Force nurses and medical specialists cared for the sick and wounded. By the end 1950, air transport became the standard for casualty movement.

The USAF aeromedical evacuation system, along with the use of antibiotics, helicopter evacuation, and new surgical techniques, cut the death rate from wounds to half the rate of WWII. These advances greatly improved the morale and eased the suffering of wounded and sick soldiers.

By the end of the war, Combat Cargo moved 311,673 wounded and sick personnel (some individuals were counted more than once in this figure because of more than one move). In addition to Combat Cargo's impressive evacuation record, the Military Air Transport Service (MATS) moved 43,196 casualties home to the United States. The heart of the system set up during the Korean War still exists today, with the USAF fully responsible for all aspects of military aeromedical evacuation behind the front lines.

Click here for more information about aeromedical evacuation during the Korean War.

An Important Moment for Military Women
Capt. Lillian Kinkela Keil: Pioneering Flight Nurse

Click here to return to the Korean War Gallery.