Women at War

Photo Credit: We Can Do It!: Credit: © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

By David Cohea, ReMIND Magazine

Not all are called to take up arms in times of war, but every man, woman and child becomes part of the national effort in some way. Although they weren’t always recognized for their efforts at the time, American military history is decorated with the dedicated service of women.

There were women who fought in the Revolutionary War, some dressed as men. In the Civil War, Rose O’Neal Greenhow served the Confederates as a spy, and Harriet Tubman, already famous for helping many slaves escape to the North, led an armed expedition of 150 black Union soldiers. In World War I, more than 35,000 women signed up to serve in such support roles as nurses, yeomen and switchboard operators. More than 400 died in service, many from the Spanish flu epidemic that roared through crowded military installations.

When the United States entered World War II in 1941, approximately 400,000 women served in a variety of roles, both abroad and at home. They flew as pilots in the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), served as nurses on the front line, drove trucks and provided logistical support. In order to keep the war machinery running, “Rosie the Riveters” filled in at factory jobs emptied out by men serving overseas and donned dungarees, tying their hair up in bandannas and taking up rivet guns to assemble B-24 bombers.

The homefront effort by women was perhaps even more considerable, with millions tending victory gardens, canning produce, selling war bonds, donating blood, salvaging commodities and sending care packages overseas.

In the Korean War, 120,000 women volunteered for service in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), Women in the Air Force (WAF), Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES, or the Navy’s women’s Reserve) and Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. Those who were medical personnel served in Korea in Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals — MASH units, as immortalized in the ’70s TV comedy.

In Vietnam, 11,000 women served, mostly as nurses but also as air traffic controllers, intelligence officers and clerks.

In 1948 Congress passed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, entitling women to vets benefits and granting them regular and reserve status. But it wasn’t until 1975 that President Gerald Ford signed a law that gave women permission to enter military training academies, and not until 2016 did the Department of Defense open all combat jobs to women.

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