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Wed, 09.29.1920

Nancy Leftenant, Nurse and Officer born


*Nancy Leftenant was born on this date in 1920. She was a Black nurse and military officer.

Also known as "Lefty," she was born in Goose Creek, South Carolina, to James and Eunice Leftenant. She graduated from Amityville High School, Amityville, New York, in 1939 and New York's Lincoln School of Nursing in 1941. She then tried to sign up for the Armed Forces but was informed that the military was not accepting Black nurses. Nancy persevered, and in January 1945, she volunteered and was accepted into the Army Nurse Corps as a reservist. Nonwhite nurses were not permitted into the regular army at that time.

She was made Second Lieutenant, and her first assignment was to Lowell General Hospital, Fort Devens, Massachusetts, where she treated World War II wounded. She and other black nurses impressed the doctors with their superior performance, so they were promoted to First Lieutenant after only 11 months. In 1946, Major Leftenant-Colon was assigned to the 332nd Station Medical Group, Lockbourne Army Air Base (now Rickenbacker Air Force Base), Ohio. She became the first black woman to join the regular Army Nurse Corps. She was assigned at Lockbourne Army Airfield when President Harry Truman issued Executive Order 9981, abolishing segregation in the United States military. In 1948 she applied for and received Regular Army Nurse Corps status.

One year later, in 1949, the 332nd Fighter Group was deactivated at Lockbourne Air Force Base, ending the Tuskegee Airmen Experience. Once the Tuskegee Airmen were disbanded, Major Leftenant-Colon switched services, joining the newly formed United States Air Force. She moved on to other assignments in the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War. She served in Germany, Tokyo (Japan), Alaska, Ohio, Alabama, Maryland, New York, and New Jersey. From 1953-1955, Major Leftenant-Colon was a Flight Nurse with the 6481st Medical Air Evacuation Group, Tachikawa, Japan.

She set up hospital wards in Japan and active war zones during this time. She saved many lives during the wars. She had to wait five years for her certification as a Flight Nurse. Major Leftenant-Colon went on to an assignment as a Flight Nurse, evacuating French Legionnaires from Vietnam. She was aboard the first medical evacuation flight into the defeated French outpost in Dien Bien Phu. Her final assignment was to McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey, where Leftenant-Colon retired as Chief Nurse in 1965. Upon her retirement, Leftenant-Colon returned to Amityville High School as the School Nurse. She held that position from 1971 – 1984. Leftenant-Colon married Air Force Reserve Captain Bayard K. Colon after retirement. He died of a heart attack in 1972 before departing for the war zone.

She and five of her twelve siblings served in the military. Her younger brother, a Tuskegee Airman pilot, died in April 1945, and his remains have yet to be found and identified. She was initially a member of the East Coast Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., having joined at its inception in 1973. However, she is currently a member of the Hannibal Cox Chapter. Leftenant-Colon held numerous positions in TAI at the National level, including National Treasurer, First Vice-President, and the organization's first female President.  In 1989, Leftenant-Colon was the first woman elected to the office of National President, Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. (TAI). She also served as National Treasurer and First Vice President of TAI.

Leftenant-Colon holds honorary degrees from Tuskegee University and Mount Saint Vincent College. Her civilian education includes a Nursing Degree from Lincoln School of Nurses, Bronx, New York. An honorary Doctorate of Humanities from Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, Alabama, and an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Mount Saint Vincent College in Riverdale, New York. Her military awards include Nominated for Women of distinction, 1987; Dr. James C. Evans Award for leadership, 1988; honored at the Martin Luther King celebration, 1991; appeared in "Essence Magazine," January 1991. She was special Congressional honor granted by the Commemorative Committee for World War II and the Legislative Black Caucus, presented by President Clinton in 1995.

She was inducted into the Long Island Air and Space Hall of Fame in 1995. In 2018, Amityville High School authorities announced that a new Media Center was being constructed to commemorate the life and military service of Major Leftenant-Colon. 

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