Navy Nurse Trailblazer Honored With Statue
The UCF College of Nursing unveiled a bronze statue of retired Rear Admiral Alene Duerk, the Navy’s first female rear admiral, at a small ceremony Friday, Feb. 8. Duerk, who also has an endowed student scholarship in her name at the college, and several local Navy nurses and military officers were in attendance.
The statue, commissioned in 2008 by the Navy Nurse Corps Association to honor Duerk at the NNCA’s 100th anniversary celebration in Washington, D.C., was shipped to Orlando for display in the College of Nursing. It is the first piece of military history in the college’s small – but growing – memorabilia collection that chronicles the field of nursing.
The statue resembles a younger Duerk and signifies her many accomplishments as a Navy nurse and war veteran.
College of Nursing Dean Jean Leuner said she is thrilled to house this piece of history at the college.
“The rear admiral was a true trailblazer and achieved greatness through courage, commitment, competence and confidence,” she said. “As one of the most accomplished leaders in nursing, the rear admiral’s statue serves as a reminder that nothing is out of reach with hard work and dedication.”
As a member of the Navy Nurse Corps, Duerk saved countless lives during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. She served as director of the Navy Nurse Corps from 1970-1975, and in 1972, she became the first female flag officer to advance to rear admiral. Until 1967, military regulations stated that the highest rank a woman could obtain in the Navy was captain.
Rear Admirals of the Navy Nurse Corps Elizabeth S. Niemyer and Rebecca J. McCormick-Boyle were unable to attend the UCF ceremony but expressed their gratitude for Duerk’s many contributions and 32 years of service in letters they sent to the college.
Niemyer said Duerk helped shape the Navy Nurse Corps’ 105 years of clinical nursing leadership.
“As the first female admiral in the United States Navy, you pioneered the road ahead for the many thousands of nurses who followed,” she wrote.
McCormick-Boyle said Duerk’s contributions to the nursing profession left a mark and lasting legacy.
“The modern face of Navy nursing can be directly linked to the miraculous advances that you and your generation accomplished during WWII,” she wrote. “You advanced the vital role played by nurses as members of the healthcare team. I have learned great lessons from your insights that I will strive to pass on to the next generation of Navy nurses.”
During her prestigious military career, Duerk was awarded countless honors, including the Legion of Merit, Naval Reserve Medal, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with bronze star, World War II Victory Medal, Navy Occupation Service Metal, and the Asia Clasp and the National Defense Service Medal with bronze star.
She currently lives in Heathrow and has been an active board member of the Visiting Nurse Association Foundation of Orlando since 1997. The foundation, together with the Navy Nurse Corps Association, arranged to have the statue shipped to the UCF College of Nursing, where it is on display.
“The board was pleased to help transport the bronze statue of one of our founding directors to Orlando and bring additional attention to the VNA Foundation endowed scholarship named for Admiral Duerk,” said Bob Wheeler, VNA Foundation treasurer. “With these scholarships, future UCF graduates can carry on her legacy of nursing and leadership achievements.”
Wheeler further hopes the statue will bring more attention to the entire Central Florida military community, especially the contributions of the “Greatest Generation” and those Admiral Duerk had on the United States.