March is celebrated as National Women’s History Month in thousands of communities and military bases throughout the world. This celebration, designated by Joint Resolutions of the House and Senate, and proclamations by six American presidents, is an opportunity to honor and celebrate women’s historic achievements. The 2013 National Women’s History Month theme, Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination, celebrates women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. As the country celebrates nationally, locally we will be celebrating our female veterans. The Alabama Veterans’ Museum and Archives will honor “Our women heroes of the Korean War, often referred to as the Forgotten War.”
Women have been “in” the military as far back as the Revolutionary War, where they served on the battlefield as nurses, water bearers, cooks, laundresses and saboteurs. During the civil war women provided casualty care and nursing to Union and Confederate troops. The Army Nurse Corps was established in 1901, followed by the Navy Nurse Corps established in 1908. During WW1, over 21,000 Army nurses served in military. During WWII things really start happening, more than 60,000 Army nurses served stateside and overseas. In 1942, the Army established the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), the Women Air Forces Service Pilots (WASP) were organized and fly as civil service pilots, and the Navy recruits women into its Navy Women's Reserve, called Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES).
The Army-Navy Nurse Act of 1947 made the Army Nurse Corps and Women's Medical Specialist Corps part of the Regular Army and gives permanent commissioned officer status to Army and Navy nurses, soon to follow suit in 1948 the rest of the service organization do the same, and finally in 1949 the Air Force Nurse Corp is established.
In 1950, fewer than five years after World War II had ended; the United States found itself once again confronted by a war for which it was unprepared. As before, a downsized military establishment rushed to call up, draft and recruit manpower, but recruitment numbers fell short of military requirements. And just as in previous wars, the services turned again to American women to meet personnel needs, asking them to leave their homes, jobs and families to serve their country.
In celebrating women's historic achievements, we present an authentic view of history. The knowledge of women’s history provides a more expansive vision of what a woman can do. It’s been many years since Winston Churchill and others said –
In time of danger and not before
Women were added to the corps
With the danger over and all well righted
War is forgotten and the women slighted.
Today, according to the US Department of Defense, there are approximately 204,973 women in the military, and the recent groundbreaking decision to lift the ban for women in direct combat ground roles may just have been the push needed to finally ensure a move toward equality of the sexes. This retired MSgt would have to say, “We’ve come a long way, baby!”
By: Sandy Thompson