VFW Magazine March 2011 : Page 14

March is Women’s History Month Women in 7 WAR T From clerks to nurses to logistic specialists to flight crews, female military personnel have served up front. These seven vignettes are just a sampling from six wars. By Janie Blankenship oday, women are serving in the military in greater numbers than ever before. But it was the women stationed in war zones throughout U.S. military history who paved the way for those in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the book A Few Good Women: America’s Military Women from World War I to the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (Alfred A. Knopf, 2010), Evelyn M. Monahan and Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee pay homage to the females who have served our country.Here is a look at some of their stories, as well as a few not included in the book. WWII: WACs in Europe During WWII, some 54,700 women served overseas. It was the largest-ever deployment of female troops up until that time. While the majority of these women were nurses, 17,000 served in administrative positions. Formed on May 12, 1942, the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) sent five females to England in November that same year.Officers Alene Drezmal, Louise Anderson,Martha E.Rogers,Ruth Briggs and Mattie Pinette left for Algiers, Algeria just one month after arriving in England. In response to Gen. Dwight D. Eisen-hower’s request for secretaries fluent in French, the five boarded a troopship bound for North Africa.Air travel would have been faster, but it was thought that sea transport was actually safer. Only one day out of port, the ship was hit by a German torpedo. The ship caught fire and began to Maj. Charity Adams and Capt. Abbie N. Campbell review the first contingent of the all-black female 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion at Ft. Des Moines Iowa, 1942. 14 • VFW • March 2011 sink.Three of the WAACs got to the deck in time to climb aboard lifeboats. Briggs STATE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF IOWA

Women In War

Janie Blankenship

T Oday, women are serving in the military in greater numbers than ever before. But it was the women stationed in war zones throughout U.S. military history who paved the way for those in Afghanistan and Iraq.<br /> <br /> In the book A Few Good Women: America’s Military Women from World War I to the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (Alfred A. Knopf, 2010), Evelyn M. Monahan and Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee pay homage to the females who have served our country. Here is a look at some of their stories, as well as a few not included in the book.<br /> <br /> WWII: WACs in Europe<br /> <br /> During WWII, some 54,700 women served overseas. It was the largest-ever deployment of female troops up until that time. While the majority of these women were nurses, 17,000 served in administrative positions.<br /> <br /> Formed on May 12, 1942, the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) sent five females to England in November that same year. Officers Alene Drezmal, Louise Anderson,Martha E. Rogers, Ruth Briggs and Mattie Pinette left for Algiers, Algeria just one month after arriving in England.<br /> <br /> In response to Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s request for secretaries fluent in French, the five boarded a troopship bound for North Africa.Air travel would have been faster, but it was thought that sea transport was actually safer. Only one day out of port, the ship was hit by a German torpedo.<br /> <br /> The ship caught fire and began to sink. Three of the WAACs got to the deck in time to climb aboard lifeboats. Briggs Steered the boat as Rogers rowed. Pinette pulled five soldiers from the water and into her lifeboat.<br /> <br /> After a night at sea, the group was rescued the following morning by a British destroyer, which also had earlier rescued Drezmal and Anderson.<br /> <br /> When the officers finally arrived in Algiers, they had nothing but the clothes on their backs. They were issued the smallest men’s uniforms available. Gen. George C.Marshall, Army chief of staff, was in North Africa to attend the Casablanca Conference. He told the women that once he got back to the States, he would replace their personal effects lost when the ship sank.<br /> <br /> Since WAACs had no real military standing, the government refused to replace their belongings. So Marshall paid for the items out of his own pocket.<br /> <br /> On July 1, 1943, President Roosevelt signed Public Law 110, officially establishing the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) as a component of the U.S. Army. It was no longer an auxiliary.<br /> <br /> WACs would play an important role During the war.<br /> <br /> In 1944, for the first time, some 800 black women were requested for mail duty in Europe.<br /> <br /> Assigned to the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, they arrived in England on Feb. 12, 1945.<br /> <br /> The officer in charge was Maj. Charity Adams, the first black woman commissioned as a WAC officer. She was later promoted to lieutenant colonel. Adams was at Ohio State University working on a master’s degree in vocational psychology when she entered the Army in 1942.<br /> <br /> “As the 6888th maintained its efficiency,” Adams later reported, “we were inspected, visited, greeted, checked out, congratulated, called upon, supervised and reviewed by every officer of any rank in the United Kingdom who could come up with an excuse to come to Birmingham [the unit’s base].”<br /> <br /> The primary responsibility of the 6888th was to re-direct all V-mail (mail reduced to microfilm for shipment) for Europe. The battalion’s motto was “No mail, low morale.”Unit members worked seven days a week in three eight-hour shifts.<br /> <br /> The unit, later based in Rouen, France, and Paris, routed mail—much of it backed up at English warehouses in the chaos that followed the Battle of the Bulge—to millions of members of the armed forces in Europe.<br /> <br /> Members of the 6888th were the first black women many Britons in Birmingham had ever seen, and they shattered stereotypes.<br /> <br /> “These WACs are very different from the colored women portrayed on the films, where they are usually either domestics or the outspoken old-retainer type or sloe-eyed sirens given to gaudiness of costume and eccentricity in dress,’’ The Birmingham Sunday Mercury wrote. “The WACs have dignity and proper reserve.’’<br /> <br /> Korean War: Nurses, 1950<br /> <br /> At 24, Army Lt.Margaret Gibson found herself shivering as she crossed the Inchon, Korea, beachhead. Serving with the 121st Evacuation Hospital, just behind the Marines, Gibson had only the summer uniforms issued to her by the Army.<br /> <br /> “General MacArthur had told all of us in Korea that we would be home for Christmas,” Gibson recalled, “but that didn’t turn out to be true.”<br /> <br /> Christmas found the 121st in Wonsan, a town on Korea’s east coast. While setting up, they were informed that there were about 5,000 Chinese troops in the area and that the nurses, doctors and medics were to defend their patients and themselves at all cost.<br /> <br /> “How we were supposed to do that was never made clear,” Gibson said. “None of us—nurses, doctors or medics—had guns, so just how we were to defend ourselves was a mystery.”<br /> <br /> Fortunately, the Chinese never spotted the 121st. Gibson next moved to Hungnam and later to Hamhung on the coast of the Sea of Japan to board the USAT Ainsworth, an Army transport ship.<br /> <br /> Today, Gibson says all people should serve two years in the military because it is part of “our responsibility.”<br /> <br /> While she said she’s glad to have served, two things still haunt her memory. For one, Korea’s “below-zero temperatures” were nearly unbearable.<br /> <br /> But “the absolute worst memory I have is of the Marines and soldiers getting killed,” she recalled. “I don’t like thinking about it because it starts pictures of them back then flowing through my mind— pictures that I’d rather not see.”<br /> <br /> Vietnam: Covert Action<br /> <br /> Maj. Aida Nancy Sanchez arrived in Vietnam on Dec. 25, 1970. For the 38- year-old physical therapist, it would be her most unique tour of duty. Sanchez had been working at Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii when she received word she would be departing for Vietnam before the year was out.<br /> <br /> Assigned to the 95th Evacuation Hospital in Da Nang, Sanchez was asked to go on a top-secret assignment. She was told only that she would be required to travel outside Vietnam in civilian clothes.<br /> <br /> Before leaving for Saigon, she was informed her assignment was to travel to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, where she would treat Lon Nol, the country’s president. He had suffered a stroke and needed intense physical therapy.<br /> <br /> She was asked to read the president’s Medical records, but not take any notes or make any copies. In Phnom Penh, she stayed at the city’s finest hotel and was guarded by seven Cambodians and two undercover U.S. agents.<br /> <br /> “They said, ‘We are protecting you. Anything you need please tell us.But you need to be quiet about it,’ ” she recalled. However, she was the only one allowed inside the presidential palace.<br /> <br /> On one occasion, Sanchez was called from her hotel in the middle of the night and driven to the U.S. Embassy where she was asked to try identifying men from photos spread before her.<br /> <br /> “I said, ‘Excuse me, I was sent here to treat the president of Cambodia,’ ” she remembers. “Nobody ever told me that I was going to be sort of like a spy.” From then on, she would track faces in the palace and tell U.S. officials.<br /> <br /> She worked with the Cambodian president for a year before extending her Tour another year. It was during 1972 that she experienced the “horrors of war.” She assisted Army nurses when Vietnamese wounded were brought to the 95th Evac Hospital at China Beach.<br /> <br /> Sanchez vividly recalls one enemy attack in particular. “I had to count [several] heads and arms and put them together in the right numbers [in a separate body bag],” she said. “We had to take those body pieces and put them in body bags so they were the same color, and there would not be two left feet or two right hands.”<br /> <br /> She calls the nurses she served with “incredible human beings.” On one occasion, she watched a nurse and a neurosurgeon save the life of a South Vietnamese soldier who had part of his brain exposed.<br /> <br /> “He lived,” Sanchez said. “It was my turn to rehabilitate him. He could walk with a cane and helped me as a translator with South Vietnamese soldiers who were wounded and needed physical therapy.”<br /> <br /> Persian Gulf War: Managing Logistics<br /> <br /> On Aug. 2, 1990, the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division was put on alert for deployment to the Persian Gulf. Lt. Col. Nanette Gallant, then a captain, was part of an advance team that went into Saudi Arabia and set up supply sources for those following later.<br /> <br /> “It was very strange,” Gallant recalled. “By the time all the planes had landed it was me with 900 men, but nobody touched me, nobody bothered me. I felt like I was a regular teammate. That was a pretty exciting thing—I’ll always remember that.”<br /> <br /> During the Persian Gulf War, Gallant first served as the division’s acting support commander, positioning tents and supply areas. Assuming her role as the general supply officer, she arranged for food and fuel for the troops.<br /> <br /> Some 15 years later, Gallant served with the 82nd Airborne in the Iraq War.<br /> <br /> Gallant was one of 40,782 women deployed to the Persian Gulf region; 13 were killed, six in action.<br /> <br /> Afghanistan: Saving Afghan Lives<br /> <br /> Following the Sept. 11, 2001, Islamic ter- Rorist attacks on the U.S., Navy Lt. Tracy Bilski was one of only three women to deploy to Afghanistan in November 2001. As a trauma surgeon, she was attached to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Force.<br /> <br /> The Marines were charged with establishing the first U.S. forward operating base, Camp Rhino, about 90 miles southwest of Kandahar.<br /> <br /> “Thankfully, we only had two major incidents where [the hospital] took a lot of casualties [Marines],”Bilski said.“We used everything.We used our drinking water and were able to get them off the base quickly … we just didn’t have the resources to keep them.”<br /> <br /> Civilians also were treated.<br /> <br /> Bilski recalled a little girl, Riyam Shihan, whose skull was crushed after a door fell on her. When Shihan arrived at Camp Al Taqaddum surgical facility, her condition deteriorated quickly.<br /> <br /> In the early hours of Oct. 14, an unconscious Shihan was flown to a higher level hospital. The medical staff that worked so hard to stabilize her doubted she would survive the required surgery, much less walk and talk again.<br /> <br /> “Even when the Marines took off, we weren’t sure if she would make it,”Bilski said.<br /> <br /> When Shihan walked back into the hospital a month later and asked for strawberry bubble gum, surgeons and corpsmen were amazed. “I couldn’t believe it,” said Bilksi, who burst into tears upon seeing the little girl.<br /> <br /> Today, Bilski is a surgeon with Mary Washington Healthcare in Virginia.<br /> <br /> National Guard: Evac Crew<br /> <br /> In November 2009, four women serving with the New Hampshire Army National Guard became their company’s first allfemale medical evacuation crew.<br /> <br /> Capt. Trish Barker, Chief Warrant Officer Andrea Galatian, Staff Sgt.Misty Seward and Sgt. Debra Lukan of C Co., 3rd Bn., 238th Avn. Regt., comprised one of the on-alert crews for Task Force Keystone. Officials aren’t sure how rare the all-female Medevac crew is, but it is a distinction the company is proud of.<br /> <br /> “There must have been another allfemale Medevac crew somewhere, but I Haven’t seen one,” said Galatian, the crew’s pilot.<br /> <br /> C Company’s commander, Capt. David Mattimore, said it wouldn’t have been possible if Lukan, an avionics sergeant, had not become a crew chief.<br /> <br /> Lukan, 43, also is the newest name on the flight roster. She enlisted following Sept. 11. “I just barely made the age cutoff,” she said.<br /> <br /> Lukan trained as an avionics mechanic but switched from the shop to flight crew. She deployed to Camp Speicher and Tikrit, Iraq, from 2005-06.<br /> <br /> “My family doesn’t know I’m flying,” she told GX: The Guard Experience magazine. “They worry a lot, but I suppose I’ll have to tell them eventually.”<br /> <br /> Lukan is an avionics technician for the New Hampshire National Guard.<br /> <br /> Seward, 30, of Owosso,Mich., agreed with Galatian on the uniqueness of the crew. “Same for me,” she said. “Never flew with an all-girl crew.”<br /> <br /> Seward enlisted in 1998 and has served as a medic for 11 years. She has four years as a flight medic and seven on the ground. She deployed to Kuwait from 2001-02 and to Baghdad from 2006-07, both tours as a ground medic.<br /> <br /> When she returned from the tour, Seward resumed her job as a security officer at a level-one trauma clinic in Lansing,Mich.<br /> <br /> Galatian enlisted in 1997 and served five years as an administrative clerk before going to flight school in 2002. She has served seven years as a pilot, including a deployment to Bosnia in 2005.<br /> <br /> As a civilian, Galatian is the business analyst for the real estate division of the Michigan Department of Transportation.<br /> <br /> Barker, 30, enlisted in 1999 as an aircraft fueler. She went to Officer Candidate School in 2003 and Flight School in 2004. A native ofMenominee, Mich., she was deployed to Bosnia in 2005 as a medevac section leader.<br /> <br /> When Barker returned from the deployment, she resumed her job as the state occupational health specialist for the Michigan Army National Guard.<br /> <br /> Whether or not they were a first, the group says they are happy to have had this experience. “I’m glad we got a chance to be first,” Barker said, “even if it is just first for us.”

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