The Navy's first female admiral, retired Rear Adm. Alene B. Duerk, died Saturday at the age of 98, the service branch announced Wednesday.
Duerk, born in Defiance, Ohio, in 1920, joined the Navy as an ensign in 1941 after completing nursing training at the Toledo Hospital School of Nursing in Ohio, the Navy said in a news release.
"Alene Duerk was a strong and dedicated trail blazer who embodied the very principles that continue to guide Navy Medicine today," Vice Adm. Forrest Faison, Navy surgeon general, said in a statement. "She will forever be remembered as a servant leader who provided the best care to those who defended our nation, honoring the uniform we wear and the privilege of leadership."
The Navy said her first tours of duty during World War 2 included ward nurse at Naval Hospital Portsmouth in Virginia, Naval Hospital Bethesda in Maryland, and board the Navy hospital ship U.S.S. Benevolence in 1945. While aboard the Benevolence, Duerk helped attend to the sick and wounded being brought back from the Third Fleet's operations against Japan.
At the end of World War 2, Duerk was involved with the repatriation of liberated allied prisoners of war, according to the Navy.
"The time I was aboard the hospital ship and we took the prisoners of war, that was something I will never forget," Duerk told the Library of Congress' Veteran's History Project. "That was the most exciting experience of my whole career."
After being released from active service in 1946, Duerk returned in 1951 as a nursing instructor at the Naval Hospital Corps School in Portsmouth, Va. and as inter-service education coordinator at the Naval Hospital in Philadelphia.
She then served at hospitals over the next two decades in San Diego, Yokosuka, Japan, Chicago, and in Washington D.C. In May 1970, she was appointed as appointed director of the Navy Nurse Corps and helped expand Navy's sphere of nursing into ambulatory care, anesthesia, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology.
President Richard Nixon approved her selection to the rank of rear admiral on April 26, 1972, making her the first woman to be selected for a flag rank. Duerk retired in 1975, but remained a strong advocate for nursing throughout her life, according to the Navy.
"It took 197 years and a forward-looking Chief of Naval Operations, Elmo Zumwalt, to break with tradition before Alene Duerk became the first woman admiral in the U.S. Navy," Naval History and Heritage Command director Sam Cox said in a statement. "But the credit goes to Duerk. From the crucible of caring for wounded Sailors, Marines and prisoners of war during World War II in the Pacific, she blazed a trail of stellar performance in tough jobs, serving as an inspiration for an ever increasing number of women officers who have followed her path."