Military Health History Pocket Card for Health Professions Trainees & Clinicians - Office of Academic Affiliations
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Military Health History Pocket Card for Health Professions Trainees & Clinicians

Military Health History Resources


December 7, 1941 - December 31, 1946
Total who served in all Armed Forces: 16,112,566

Battle Deaths: 291,557
Wounded: : 671,846
Medals of Honor: 433

Unique Health Risks
  • Cold Injury
  • Chemical Warfare Agent Experiments
  • Nuclear Weapons Testing or Cleanup
  • What theatre?
    Pacific - Europe - Asia
Summary of War

The World Book Encyclopedia begins its discussion of World War II with the following words: "World War II (1939-1945) killed more people, destroyed more property, disrupted more lives, and probably had more far reaching effects than any other war in history." The U.S. entered the war in December 1941 following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Before it was over, Americans had fought on the continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa and in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. At various times, their service was carried out under severe winter conditions, in the harshest of deserts, and in the hottest, most humid tropical climes. Those who joined up or were drafted were in the military for the duration, however long that might be. The war in Europe ended on May 8, 1945, when the Germans surrendered at Reims in France. The war continued in the Pacific for three more months. However, following the dropping of the first atomic (U-235) bomb on Hiroshima on August 6 and a larger (plutonium) bomb on Nagasaki two days later, the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo harbor on September 2, 1945.

WWII veterans today are all over 70 years old and subject to all the diseases of aging: cardiovascular diseases, cancer, dementias of the Alzheimer's type, etc. However, In the early 1940's, they were among the nation's fittest and participated in modern warfare that coincided with major advances in modern medicine. The advent of antibiotics began with the use of sulfonamides in the mid-1930's, hence the troops had the benefits of sulfa and penicillin to treat both disease and wound infections. They also benefited from the availability of blood transfusions, aeromedical evacuation, better burn management, synthetic antimalarials and DDT, and a wide range of preventive measures including immunizations against yellow fever, cholera, plague, influenza, typhus, typhoid and tetanus. The result was an up to then extraordinary 4% died-of-wounds rate for British and American troops, (this rate was later reduced to 2.5% in Vietnam) and death rates from disease markedly below the killed-in-action rate. Mortality did not tell the entire story. Morbidity from such diseases as tuberculosis (anti-tuberculous agents did not begin to appear until 1949), rheumatic fever, hepatitis, and tropical diseases was high, however, and the prime reason for residual disability and time lost from duty. World War II veterans also were the first to serve in the nuclear age and American POWs were employed in the clean up of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, thus becoming the first "atomic vets." Over 350,000 women served with a peak strength of 271,000 representing 2% of the personnel in uniform, compared to the approximately 15% now in the military. Women, mostly nurses, were taken prisoners of war by the Japanese when Bataan and Corregidor fell and were interned in the Philippines for four years.

Following the war, there was a swift collapse of the alliance against Hitler with a failure to agree on peace terms, the partition of Germany and the beginning of the Cold War which was to last until 1991.


Department of Veterans Affairs Website
Veterans Health Initiative
Independent study courses developed to recognize the connection between certain health effects and military service.

Department of Veterans Affairs Website
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