This month we’re highlighting Hispanic prominent figures in the medical field to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month. Up next is Maria Garcia Roach, a U.S. Army Air Force nurse and pilot who served during World War II.
Her parents were both medical missionaries, who moved from Mexico to
Austin, Texas shortly after she was born. Her father was the first U.S. trained Mexican-American doctor to practice and her mother was an equal rights advocate for Mexican-Americans. Together, her parents also published a Spanish newspaper in Austin.
Garcia Roach studied at the University of Texas at Austin and at Charity Hospital in New Orleans. While in New Orleans, she became a nurse anesthetist and then taught as an anesthesiologist instructor at Tulane University School of Medicine.
When World War II began, she volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army Air Forces. Because of her medical training, she was originally ordered to serve at a field hospital. However, once military leaders realized that she also had a pilot’s license, she was moved to a training program in Kentucky where she trained with medical and air evacuation services. After training, she was sent to become a nurse-pilot in China, Burma and India.
While in the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations, she flew more than 1,000 hours transporting wounded soldier. In 1945, she became a Air Evacuation instructor at Randolph Field in Texas, training new pilots. She was also awarded the Bronze Star and Air Medal for her heroic efforts while flying.
Garcia Roach died at age 102 in 2018.