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Aeromedical Evacuation: Speed Saves Lives

Aeromedical Evacuation during the Korean War. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Aeromedical Evacuation during the Korean War. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Aeromedical evacuation duo: The C-54 and the H-5. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Aeromedical evacuation duo: The C-54 and the H-5. (U.S. Air Force photo)

An H-5 crew delivers a wounded soldier to a MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) unit. (U.S. Air Force photo)

An H-5 crew delivers a wounded soldier to a MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) unit. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The H-19’s winch allowed its crews to pick up casualties without landing. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The H-19’s winch allowed its crews to pick up casualties without landing. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Loading casualties onto a C-54D at Taegu, 1951. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Loading casualties onto a C-54D at Taegu, 1951. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Airmen carry litter patients up truck ramps and into transport aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Airmen carry litter patients up truck ramps and into transport aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo)

C-47s carried casualties from forward airstrips to air bases further south. These patients are being evacuated from the front near Hagaru-ri in late 1950 during the Chosin retreat. (U.S. Air Force photo)

C-47s carried casualties from forward airstrips to air bases further south. These patients are being evacuated from the front near Hagaru-ri in late 1950 during the Chosin retreat. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Airmen move a wounded patient. Speedy evacuation by air cut the casualty death rate by half from World War II. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Airmen move a wounded patient. Speedy evacuation by air cut the casualty death rate by half from World War II. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The huge new C-124 could carry 200 walking wounded or 127 litter patients. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The huge new C-124 could carry 200 walking wounded or 127 litter patients. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A casualty arrives in Japan aboard a C-47, July 1950. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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A casualty arrives in Japan aboard a C-47, July 1950. (U.S. Air Force photo)

"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.

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