Retired Rear Adm. Alene Duerk, the Navy’s first female flag officer. (Navy photo) The selection of the Navy’s first female admiral in 1972 was an easy one for then-Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo Zumwalt, the Naval History and Heritage Command reports .
Duerk, who is celebrating her 98th birthday Wednesday, was born in Defiance, Ohio. She entered the Navy in 1943, initially as a ward nurse at the Portsmouth and Bethesda naval hospitals. She also served on the Benevolence in the Pacific, helping repatriate U.S. prisoners of war.
After she was appointed director of the Navy Nurse Corps, Duerk instituted a number of reforms to scrape “outmoded policies negatively affect Navy medicine,” including new promotion opportunities and pay increases for nurses, which doubled their retention rate.