Local women honored for time in military
By Jo Ann Spieth-Saylor, Editor, [email protected]
Six local women who served in the military were honored Monday at the annual Memorial Day service in Elizabeth.
Joining the Rev. Richard (Dick) Goodwin near the speakers’ platform were Lynn Coulter, an AK2 in the Navy from 1993 to 2001; Shannon Duddy, a flight medic in the Air Force from 1987 to 1994; Cathy Knear, an Army medic during Desert Storm; Norma Maileau, a PN3 in the Navy from 1951 to 1954; and a Desley Miller Snyder, a boatswain mate in the Navy from 1994 to 1997. Also recognized but unable to attend was Mrs. C.J. Carter, who served in the Army from 1965 to 1969.
With Rose Hill Cemetery as the backdrop, Goodwin talked about women’s roles in the nation’s military.
“From the battlefields of the American Revolution to the deserts of Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan, women have been serving in the military in one form or another for more than 200 years,” he said. “They have had to overcome decades of obstacles to get to where they are today, serving in greater numbers, in combat roles and in leadership positions all around the world.”
Goodwin told how women early on, during the Revolutionary War, “boosted morale as well as mended clothes, tended to wounds, foraged for food, cooked and cleaned both laundry and cannons.” There were also some women who disguised their gender to battle at the front lines during times of war, while others, like Lydia Darragh, served as spies.
“However, women’s roles in the military became even more crucial during the Civil War, as their support expanded,” Goodwin said. “Nearly 20,000 women lent their skills and efforts in everything from growing crops to feed troops to cooking in Army camps. Other tasks included sewing, laundering uniforms and blankets and organizing donations through fund-raising campaigns.
“Notably, it was during the Civil War that women began to serve as nurses on a much larger and more official scale,” he said. “Approximately 3,000 women served as nurses for the Union Army during the war.”
Further changes occurred with the arrival of the 20th century. Among them was the establishment of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps in 1901. Also, during World War I, women, who did not even have the right to vote yet, were allowed to openly serve in the military.
“With the large numbers of American men being sent to war overseas, the armed forces, and the U.S Navy in particular, needed stateside replacements for the roles that were left behind,” Goodwin said. “After finding a loophole in a naval act that would allow women to serve in non-commissioned office and non-combat roles, the Navy enlisted its first yeomanettes.”
World War II created an unprecedented need for service members, Goodwin said, resulting in all branches of the military enlisting women.
“In total, nearly 350,000 American women served in uniform during World War II,” he said. “These women took on non-combat roles in order to free up more men to fight. They continued to work clerical jobs as they did during World War I, but they also drove vehicles, repaired airplanes, worked in laboratories and cryptology, served as radio and telephone operators, rigged parachutes, test-flew airplanes, ferried planes to combat areas and even trained their male counterparts in air combat tactics.”
Women also served as nurses — 57,000 in the Army Nurse Corps and 11,000 in the Navy Nurse Corps — working on the front lines and coming under enemy fire.
“They risked their lives and were integral to American success in the war, and through it all they faced challenges in navigating their new roles and overcoming discrimination in a male-dominated arena,” Goodwin said.
“In total, 432 women were killed in the line of service during World War II and 88 were taken (prisoner of war),” he said.
After the war, many of these women hoped to continue their military career but were pushed out of their roles so the returning men could have them, according to Goodwin.
“Some would struggle for decades to obtain veteran status or benefits for their service during World War II,” he said. “But because of their perseverance and dedication to service throughout the war, they helped pave the way for women in the military who would come after them.”
In 1948, President Harry S Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act into law, officially allowing women to serve as full, permanent members of all branches of the armed forces.
“However, this was not a guarantee of equal opportunity,” Goodwin noted. “The act actually restricted the number of women who could serve to only 2% of each branch and also limited how many women could become officers. … ”
Goodwin cited several “firsts” for women in the military that occurred at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st: among them was the first woman to become a Navy fighter pilot, the first female four-star general in the Army, the first female rescue swimmer in the Coast Guard and the first female to receive the Silver Star for direct combat action.
“Then, in 2013, the ban on women in combat would be lifted entirely, and female service members would be allowed to serve in direct ground combat roles,” Goodwin said. “In 2015, this was put into action. This historic change opened up hundreds of thousands of jobs for women in the military.
“Since the opening of combat positions to women, several female service members have trained to step into these roles,” he said. “Over the past six years, 50 women have graduated from the Army’s Ranger School and others have successfully completed Navy SEAL officer assessments and selection, proving their capabilities in even the most rigorous and challenging assignments.”
Goodwin said women continue to make history in the military, pushing boundaries and taking on more roles.
“More than 300,000 women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11, more than 9,000 have earned Combat Action badges and, today, women make up 16% of our nation’s armed forces, serving in every branch of the U.S. military,” he said. “As the history of women in the military clearly shows, female service members are a force to be reckoned with.”