LTC Ruth Ayako Tanaka, ANC, Retired
Ruth A. Tanaka was born on May 9, 1914 in Colusa, California to Tsunetaro Tanaka and Tsyuo Saito Tanaka, who were immigrants from Kumamoto, Japan. The family lived in several farm communities in central California, including Colusa, Santa Cruz, French Camp, Lodi and Stockton. Ruth graduated from Lodi High School. In 1942 Ruth and her family were evacuated to Manzanar Relocation Center as ordered by Executive Order 9066 after the declaration of war against Japan, which relocated 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry from the west coast irrespective of the fact that 2/3 of the people were U.S. citizens. After spending two years in Manzanar where she worked as a nurse’s aide in the camp hospital, she relocated to Denver along with other members of her family.
Ruth worked at the Children’s Hospital in the diet kitchen and wanted to enter nurse’s training at Children’s Hospital but was not allowed to do so because she was Japanese American. However she was accepted for the nursing program at Seton School of Nursing in Colorado Springs, Colorado and received her nurse’s training at Penrose Hospital and her degree in July 1947 under the Cadet Nursing program.. She then passed the state board examination and received her nursing license.
At the time of Ruth’s graduation, polio was rampant and she trained in the technique of treating polio patients. She worked with polio patients in Colorado Springs, Trinidad, Pueblo and at Colorado General Hospital in Denver. She also worked with polio patients in Texas and Oklahoma through the American Red Cross and National Polio Foundation, later returning to Colorado General Hospital.
She joined the US Army Nurse Corps in March, 1949 as Second Lieutenant at Fitzsimons Army Hospital in Denver, Colorado. She completed her Officer’s Basic Course at Brooks Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, and in 1951 was sent to 97th General Hospital and 98th General Hospital in Frankfurt, Germany, where she was assigned to aiding in nursing polio patients. She returned to Fitzsimons Army Hospital in the capacity of pediatrics nurse. After completing a course at Brooks Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas in advanced administration, she was sent t o St. Luke’s Hospital in Tokyo, Japan. She also served as night supervisor at the 21st Evacuation Hospital in Korea. Back in the States, she was stationed at William Beaumont Hospital in El Paso, Texas and later at US Army Hospital at Fort Ord, California as head nurse in pediatrics. From 1967 to 1969, Ruth was stationed at Letterman General Hospital in San Francisco, California as night nursing supervisor.
Ruth A. Tanaka retired in June, 1969 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel US Army Nurse Corps Reserve after 20 years of service. She received the National Defense Service Medal with oak leaf cluster, Army Occupation Medal - Germany, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal and the Army Commendation Medal.
After retirement, Ruth returned to Denver from 1971 to 1981. She moved back to San Francisco from 1981 - 1990 and returned to Denver in 1990. She moved to Washington, DC in 1998.
In June, 2006, she became ill and was hospitalized and placed in a nursing home. She was moved to a nursing home in Denver, Colorado so that her family could look after her care and affairs. On January 4, 2007, she passed away.
As she requested, LtC Ruth A. Tanaka will be interred in the Florence Nightingale section of Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC with full military honors on January 30, 2007. She will join her brother, John, who was killed in action in France in 1945 while serving with the 100th Bn., 442nd RCT and was interred in Arlington National Cemetery.
Her commitment in life was to her Army nursing career in which she was devoted and her love of art, classical music and opera.