Lutz was born November 9, 1915 in Freeland, Michigan to German immigrants Friederich Georg Lutz and Margaretha Sybilla Lutz from Nuremberg, Germany. Lutz grew up bilingual, a native English and German speaker, which would later maker her an asset during World War II. Quite prophetically, Aleda Lutz's name respectively means "winged" "famous warrior."
Lutz was the youngest of 10 children and grew up on a farm that would later become part of the MBS International Airport, formerly known as the Tri-City Airport, that was built due to fears that the Detroit Airport, where combat aircraft were being built, could be a target for bombing.
Lutz attended Wellman Country School through the 8th grade and Freeland School through the 10th grade. In 1933 she graduated from Saginaw Arthur Hill High School. In 1937 Lutz graduated from Saginaw General Hospital School of Nursing.
Aleda Lutz was a superior athlete; she especially liked tennis, dancing, and ice skating. History also indicates that Lutz was an avid bowler. She began bowling while attending nursing school. As an activity for the nursing students, a local bowling center, Hessie Lanes, gave the students the opportunity to bowl at a reduced rate. Lutz was active in the Saginaw Women's Bowling Association, which was founded in 1937.
Lutz was not alone in her military service to her country: her brother Adam fought in WWI, her brother Conrad joined the medical division during WWII, her nephews Theodore and Frederick joined the U.S. Army during WWII and her nephew Robert joined the peace-keeping force in Germany after WWII.
Lutz's family belonged to St John Lutheran Church-Amelith and they helped minister to German POWs who were housed at the Freeland Camp.
Aleda became a staff nurse at Saginaw General Hospital, but with the advent of World War II, she began looking for a way to contribute to the massive war effort. She enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps on February 10, 1942 and was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant. Her army service number was N730648.
Aleda spent her early months as a general duty nurse at Station Hospital at Selfridge Air Field, in Mount Clemens, Michigan. Early letters describe her living quarters, her work at the base, and her thoughts about the service. In one letter she said she on duty as the only nurse, and had 25 patients. Furthermore, she expected the work load to increase as more nurses were being sent overseas.
All nurses in basic training at Selfridge Field were asked to volunteer for air nurse if they could pass the pilot's physical. Only two percent of 59,000 nurses in World War II were qualified flight nurses. World War II had given rise to the first female flight nurses in the U.S. military. Just 6 of 22 nurses who applied passed the physical. Three of the six dropped out of the program. Only Lutz and two others, Clara Murphy and Veronica Savinski, were assigned to be flight nurses.
On December 17, 1943, Aleda was promoted to 1st Lieutenant. Lutz was transferred to the 802nd Medical Air Evacuation Transportation Squadron squadron of the 12th Army Air Forces, the first to depart for overseas duty. They were activated and sent to North Africa. The 802nd was a Medical Air Evacuation Squadron, the first unit of its kind. This highly classified unit consisted of C-47 cargo planes which flew to the battlefront with ammunition and supplies and then took wounded-emergency cases back to the hospitals. It should also be noted that these planes flew without the Red Cross insignia. She was first sent to Sarasota's Morrison Field in Florida. She and the other nurses were looking forward to spending the winter in the sunny south, but before their curriculum was in place, the unit was activated. In January 1943, the three nurses were en route to an oversees assignment as part of the evacuation squadron sent into active duty. It appears that they received their training on the job, in the middle of a war zone.
Aleda was in the 1st landing in Africa and on every American operation that went on around there. Lutz participated in six separate battle campaigns over a 20-month period, accompanied air combat missions, and conducted all-weather medical evacuations in Tunisia, Italy and France.
In June 1943, Aleda wrote that she was both amused and sometimes embarrassed at the attention she and her fellow nurses received from the soldiers. Oftentimes, Aleda and her fellow nurses were the first American women the soldiers had seen in six to eight months. It seemed the soldiers were all eager to talk to an American girl. The 802nd had gone farther into the combat zone than any other medic unit with nurses. Realizing what it would probably be like, Aleda wondered what the future had in store for her.
They said that Lutzy, as she was called by her friends, tried to win the war all by herself. When the weather wan't fit for humans and the overcast so heavy a bird couldn't navigate, Lt. Lutz would fly. Any place a pilot would fly, Lt. Lutz would fly. People said when the weather was terrible, and the C-47s bounced around and sank into air pockets and thrust their way through the nasty fronts of mountain country, at those times Lt. Lutz was calmest and at her best.
Not one of the 3500 she helped evacuate died under her hand. Through this demonstration of her value as a flight nurse, she soon became one of the best liked members of the unit. An army nurse colleague recalls, "Aleda was the most wonderful person - everyone loved her. She was full of wit and humor. She was the best nurse I ever came in contact with - before or after the war."
As a flight nurse, Lutz flew in unmarked transport planes, which were used to carry supplies to front lines and transport patients backing out, making them legal targets for enemy fire. She once made four sorties in a single day onto the Anzio beachhead flight-strip while it was still under shell fire from the German army.
On November 1, 1944, she was fatally injured in a Medevac C-47 crash near Saint-Chamond, Loire, France. The Medevac was transporting 15 wounded soldiers (6 German POW and 9 American soldiers) from Lyon, France to a hospital in Italy when the plane crashed. The official explanation was that a violent storm was encountered. The pilot lost control of the plane and it crashed on the side of Mont Pelat, the highest mountain in the westernmost part of the Mercantour National Park. Recent evidence, however, holds that the plane may have been shot down. There were no survivors. Lutz was 28 years old, and the only female on the plane. It is believed that Lutz volunteered for that flight, despite the perilous conditions.
Lutz was the first American woman to die in combat in World War II. At the time of her death, Lutz was perhaps the most experienced flight nurse in the U.S. military service. She had the most evacuation sorties (196), most combat hours flown by any flight nurse (814) and the most patients transported by any flight nurse (3500+).
Lutz was buried with full military honors in the Rhone American Cemetery and Memorial in Draguignan, France. General Mark W. Clark and Major General Thomas B. Larkin both attended her funeral. Lutz is the only woman buried there.
Lutz is one of the most highly decorated women in the United States Military. Lutz was awarded the Purple Heart, four Air Medals, European-African Theatre ribbon, the Oak Leaf Clusters and the Red Cross Medal. Lutz had six battle stars: Tunisia, Sicily, Rome-Arno, Southern France, and North Apennines.
Lutz was the first army nurse to receive posthumously, from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the nation’s second highest military honor, making Lutz the second woman to receive the decoration after Amelia Earhart It was awarded for distinguished performance in an aircraft. It reads as follows: For extraordinary achievement—throughout her long period of service, 1st Lt. Lutz distinguished herself through superior professional skill and courage. Her selfless devotion to duty and outstanding proficiency have reflected the highest credit upon herself and the armed forces of the United States. Her resourcefulness and determination have been on high inspiration those serving with her.
On April 3, 1945, at the insistence of General George C. Marshall, Lutz was honored with an 800-patient future hospital ship the USAHS Aleda E. Lutz. The Aleda E Lutz was the largest mercy ship afloat and was the former French liner Columbia. On February 13, 1945, Aleda E. Lutz was designated a U.S. Army hospital ship in accordance to international practice, as set forth in the provisions of the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907.
The Aleda E. Lutz Nursing Award was given annually by the Saginaw General Hospital's Nursing School from 1945 until it's closing in 1969.
When women war veterans of Saginaw County organized their own American Legion Post No.544 after the war, it was also named for Aleda.
In July 1945, Aleda's sister Hilda Lutz, a Saginaw General Hospital nurse, was a special guest at the Detroit Municipal Airport where the army air force was presented with an $80,000 check from the Women's International Bowling Congress for a new C-47 airplane to be named Miss Nightingale III, in Aleda's honor.
To carry on her legacy, her family and members of the Women's International Bowling Congress joined together to lobby Congress to pass a bill that allowed medical hospitals to be named in honor of women. The effort to rename the facility after Lutz, who was an athlete in bowling and half a dozen other sports, continued to be recognized by women bowlers. They responded to a request at the 1990 WIBC's annual meeting to stir up national support for renaming the center. The vast majority of Saginaw citizens thought the hospital was already named after Aleda Lutz—after all, it was dedicated in her honor in 1950 and again in 1988—but it was never officially recognized by Congress. In fact, the congressional resolution was first offered in 1949, but died in committee because she was a woman.WIBC delegates spread the word that legislation needed to be approved by Congress before the center could officially be named after Lutz. By writing letters and telephoning congressional leaders, they made it happen
On October 27, 1990, the Aleda E. Lutz Veterans Affairs Medical Center was rededicated as the Aleda E. Lutz Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center by Congressional Decree. It was the first time a medical facility was congressionally named after a woman. The dedication came 46 years after Aleda's death. There are currently only two VA medical centers named for women
In 1993, Lutz was inducted into the Saginaw (Michigan) Hall of Fame and in 1994, she was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame in Lansing, Michigan.
On Saturday, April 17, 2010 Lutz, along with four other former military members with Michigan connections will be enshrined into the Air Zoo's Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame.
A stele (monument) exists at the crash site which states Lt. Lutz was the first American woman who died in action during World War II. The stele is near Doizieux, France on Mt. Pilat. The monument was erected in 2005 and every September there is a memorial service. A local citizen has written a book about the crash and has interviewed all the witnesses.
These honors, earned during her lifetime and posthumously, make Lutz the highest decorated woman in the military history of this country with the exception of Civil War Era Doctor Mary Edwards Walker, the sole female recipient of the Medal of Honor.