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Celebrating Female Servicemembers on Veterans' Day

denise krepp
U.S. Coast Guard SPAR veteran Genni Anderson, center, visits Coast Guard Base Support Unit Honolulu, 2011 (USCG file image)

By Denise Krepp 11-10-2020 09:13:09

Women have served in the armed forces for over one hundred years. They served in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard before women could vote. They weren’t drafted, they volunteered. Their stories inspired sisters, daughters and grand-daughters to follow in their footsteps. I'm sharing a reading list inspired by these amazing women.

Army

General Ann Dunwoody is the first female four star general. She started her military career in the Women’s Army Corps (WACs). The WACs weren’t integrated into the regular Army until 1978. Thirty years later, General Dunwoody became a four star general and she shares her story in “A Higher Standard: Leadership Strategies from America's First Female Four-Star General”.  

Japanese-American women volunteered to serve in the Army after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Professor Brenda L. Moore,  Department of Sociology University at Buffalo, SUNY, shares their story in “Serving Our Country: Japanese American Women in the Military during World War II”.  

African-American women also served in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II.  Professor Moore shares their story in “To Serve My Country, to Serve My Race: The Story of the Only African-American WACS Stationed Overseas During World War II.”  The women of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion made sure that soldiers received their mail.

Navy

Women entered the US Naval Academy for the first time in the summer of 1976.  The trailblazers included  one African American woman, Janie Mines. Mines shares her story in “No Coincidences: Reflections of the First Black Female Graduate of the United States Naval Academy.” Mines inspired her sister to also apply to the US Naval Academy and she graduated in the second class of women.

Like Mines, Sharon Disher was a member of the 1980 USNA class. She shares her story in “First Class: Women Join the Ranks at the Naval Academy.” Disher wasn’t the only family member to attend USNA. Her husband, son and daughter did so as well, a first in the school’s 175 year history. 

Marine Corps

In “Fight Like a Girl: The Truth Behind How Female Marines Are Trained”, retired Lieutenant Colonel Kate Germano tackles gender bias in the Marine Corps. In 1978, the Army integrated women into the service. All soldiers train together. The same can’t be said of the Marine Corps. They are the only armed service in 2020 where men and women train separately at boot camp. Germano talks about how early segregation impacts gender relations later in service.

In 2003, then Lieutenant Jane Blair deployed to Iraq. She wrote about this experience in “Hesitation Kills: A Female Marine Officer's Combat Experience in Iraq." Blair was attending the Basic School at Quantico on September 11, 2001. She and her husband were both deployed to Iraq in 2003 but not at the same place. Dual deployments were still uncommon, so Blair had to figure out ways to see her husband.

Anuradha Bhagwati graduated from Yale and then attended Officer Candidate School in Quantico. She writes about her military experience in “Unbecoming, a Memoir of Disobedience.” Until very recently, gays and lesbians couldn’t serve in the military. Bhagwati talks about her bisexuality. She also discusses military sexual assault.

Air Force

Ann Baumgartner Carl was the first American woman to fly a military jet. Amelia Earhart visited Carl’s school in 1932 and inspired her to become a pilot. Carl served as a Women's Air Service Pilots (WASP) during World War II and flew the turbo-jet powered Bell JP-59A on Oct. 14, 1944. Carl shares her story in “A WASP among Eagles: A Woman Military Test Pilot  in World War II.” Carl died in 2008 and in her obituary, Carl’s son shared how his mom often sat next to Orville Wright at dinners. 

Put Pen to Paper

Writing this essay taught me that there aren’t many books about women who’ve served in the military (including the Coast Guard). Our story isn’t well known and it won’t be unless we tell it. If you’re a female veteran, please put pen to paper. Your story is valuable and it should be told.

K. Denise Rucker Krepp is a former Maritime Administration Chief Counsel and Coast Guard officer.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.