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WWII Women Veterans

WWII Women Veterans: A Historical Highlight

by Liz Zaczek

March is dedicated to women’s history so it seems like the perfect time to discuss the role of women in the military during World War II. Reluctant to enter the war when it began in 1939, the United States quickly committed itself to total war after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. That commitment included utilizing all of America’s assets—women included. Approximately 350,000 women served in our nation’s military during World War II. These female veterans, during their time in active service, drove trucks, performed maintenance and repaired  airplanes and other military vehicles, while others served in clerical roles throughout the branches of our country’s armed services. Playing an important role in the war effort, WAACS, WAVES, WASPS, SPARS and others performed important duties both stateside and overseas freeing up their male counterparts to join the front lines on the battlefields.  While most American History textbooks contain passages dedicated to WAACS and WAVES very little information is presented about several of the lesser known, yet just as important, female military forces and the important role these brave women played in our Navy’s, Coast Guard’s, Air Force’s and Army’s war efforts. 

 

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States officially entered World War II. A year later, President Franklin Roosevelt signed a law creating the Women’s Reserve branch of the Coast Guard and the service began recruiting women for this new force. Initially it was assumed that the women volunteering to serve in the forces would have few useful skills other than typical “women’s skills” like clerical work and telephone switchboard operation. However,several newly enlisted women surprised their male superiors demonstrating their value and worth to the war efforts. A former police officer proved she could shoot as well as a man and a former professional photographer demonstrated her abilities and became a photographer’s assistant documenting the war…just to name a few.

 

The SPARS took their name, an acronym,  from the US Coast Guard motto, “Semper Paratus” and its English translation, “Always Ready”. Captain Dorothy S. Stratton, head of the SPAR forces, is credited with creating its moniker and carving its place in American history. Captain Stratton, on leave from her position as Dean of Women at Perdue University served as a Lieutenant in the Navy Women’s Reserve (WAVES) before accepting her post with the US Coast Guard. After estimating that it would need 8,000 enlisted women and 400 female officers, at its peak there were 12,000 female members of the SPARS distributed across the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii.Members took over many duties on the homefront including rigging parachutes, serving as radio operators, lab techs, nurses and cooks. Many of these female military members rose through the ranks faster than their male counterparts and often hid their rank insignia from them so as to not cause strife.Among the most unique duties and assignments for these patriotic young women was the operation of the LORAN (Long Range Aid to Navigation) system. This leading edge system tracked and calculated the precise location of ships at sea. Notable among the SPARS operating stations across the United States was the  station located in Chatham, Massachusetts staffed by an all female crew, the first of its kind.

 

During their time in active duty, these women rose the ranks and held 43 different ratings from Boatswain mate to Yeoman. Originally signing on for “duration plus six” (months),within a year of the Allied victory the SPAR reserve forces were deactivated. 

 

Prior to World War II, the U.S. military showed little interest in using aircraft and flight nurses to evacuate wounded soldiers from the front lines. The global war, however, forced the U.S. Army and  Air Forces to revolutionize military medical care through the development of air evacuation (later known as aeromedical evacuation) and flight nurses.Over 1,000 women trained at the Bowman Field in Louisville, Kentucky as Flight Nurses through the United States Air Force and Army. From these newly trained specialized soldiers 18 medical air evacuation squadrons were formed. The first class of flight nurses formally graduated from the Bowman Field facility on February 13, 1943 however several squadrons of the newly formed unit were deployed to front overseas before the graduation, and in some cases, their training was complete. 2nd Lt. Geraldine Dishroon, the honor graduate, received the first wings presented to a flight nurse. In 1944, Dishroon served on the first air evacuation team to land on Omaha Beach after the D-Day invasion. 

 

These squadrons evacuated over 1.5 MILLION sick and wounded soldiers, sailors and Marines from battlefields across the warfront saving countless lives. Pioneers of in-flight intensive care, the flight nurses tended to soldiers mid air as they flew across Europe, the Pacific and Asia transporting them safely from battle aid stations to inter-theater and intercontinental stations and home to the USA. The planes, predominantly C-46’s, C-4’s and C-54’s, became airborne hospitals with the all female squadrons providing care from take off to landing.

 

As part of their training the flight nurses’ training consisted of aero-medical physiology, field survival, map reading, crash procedures, and physical conditioning.. Nurses needed to be and stay in top physical condition to best care for their patients during these rigorous flights. Since these planes were also used to transport military supplies and thus were not painted with a red cross to indicate their non-combat status, these evacuation flights were vulnerable to enemy attacks. For this reason, flight nurses and medical technicians were considered volunteers.

 

Flight nurses were truly unique for their time.  Not only did they operate under their own authority, they also outranked the male surgical technician that accompanied them.In the 1940s, only trained physicians could start IV’s and oxygen on a patient. The flight nurses were the first not only to do these tasks but did them flying over hostile and dangerous environments. They also had to deal with extreme medical emergencies, including shock, hemorrhage, and sedation.

 

As with any military profession at the time, flight nursing did not come without its risks and dangers. Those brave women had to keep the fighting men alive while combating the dangers in the air over the European and Pacific theaters. Many women were taken as POWs after crash landing behind enemy lines. In all, sixteen flight nurses were killed during the war.

Eventually, about 500 flight nurses served as members of 31 medical air evacuation transport squadrons operating worldwide. It is a tribute to their skill that of the 1,176,048 patients air evacuated throughout the war, only 46 died en route. Seventeen flight nurses lost their lives during the war.

 

The United States Army Nurse Corps tended to the wounded and ill soldiers on land and in the air in cooperation with the  Air Force’s Flying Nurses. By 1945, more than 57,000, the largest number of nurses on active duty in the history of the organization, Army nurses were assigned to hospital ships and trains; flying ambulances; and field, evacuation, station, and general hospitals at home and overseas. 

 

Serving as part of the Army Nurse Corps did not come without the dangers their male counterparts faced on the front lines.  In May 1942, with the fall of Corregidor in the Philippines, 67 Army nurses became Japanese prisoners of war. During their thirty-seven months in  captivity, these women endured primitive conditions and starvation rations, yet they continued to care for the ill and injured in the internment camp hospital. In Anzio in January 1944 ,army nurses dug foxholes outside their tents and cared for patients under German shellfire. Their bravery and perseverance bolstered the spirits of the soldiers who shared the same tough experience. Two evacuation hospitals, with their complement of nurses, landed in Normandy in June 1944, four days after the invasion.

 

After the war, a wide range of  public health missions required that Army nurses supervise communicable disease measures as former enemy countries were reorganized. In Hiroshima, these female officers cared for victims of the atomic bombs. In Munich, they prevented a mass epidemic among displaced persons camps. In Hamburg, the healthcare professionals established prenatal and well baby clinics. In Heidelberg, they helped people recover from the psychological impact of the devastating effects of the war.

The Corps’ military status continued to evolve in the time after the war. In one year, the branch’s active duty membership dropped from 57,000 to 8,500 nurses. On April 16, 1947, the government combined the Army Nurse Corps into the medical department of the United States Army and authorized a minimum number of no less than 2,558 nurses. It also provided permanent commissioned officer status for members of the Corps with the ranks of Second Lieutenant through Lieutenant Colonel. Specialized requirements in military nursing became the focus of the postwar era. Recruits completed courses in anesthesia, psychiatric treatment, operating room and community health nursing and hospital administration.

The war ended with the armistice on August 14, 1945. As life began to return to normal across the country and the world, these courageous female veterans suddenly found themselves being encouraged to return to their civilian lives and roles. While many did, others, with new found post-war experience confidence, used the skills they learned in the military to redefine the roles of women in the workforce. In the decades that followed, while progress was slow, serving their country in those important roles empowered the women to fight for the right to work in non-traditional jobs for equal pay and equal rights in the workplace and beyond. 

Ms. Veteran America: More than a Beauty Contest

Lyndsey Guiterrez

By Debbie Gregory.

The Ms. Veteran America competition highlights more than the strength, courage, and sacrifice of our nation’s military women, but also reminds us that these women also serve their families as mothers, daughters, sisters and wives.

Women have been serving in the military as early as the Revolutionary War, and their roles have evolved from cooks and nurses to current combat roles. The woman named Ms. Veteran America is also a role model, teaching and empowering young women and girls to support, inspire and lift-up one another.

The role that female veterans play is often overshadowed, and the Ms. Veteran America competition is more of a movement than a pageant, working to change that narrative, while addressing the issue of homelessness among female veterans.

“I don’t think there are stereotypes as much as being afraid of what women can accomplish…we’ve had three 3-star generals, we’ve had women that have completed the Army ranger course so at this point I don’t know what a stereotype is,” said Jas Boothe, a U.S. Army Veteran and founder of the Ms. Veteran America competition.

Twenty-five finalists representing each service branch as well as National Guard and Reserve Units compete in evening gowns, talent, and a push-up competition.

“We definitely need to work on legislation and how we treat female service members, we need to take a look at their unique needs, we need to get the perspective of women,” said Lindsay Gutierrez, the current Ms. Veteran America.

To date, the competition has raised more than $330,000 dollars and provided more than 12,000 days of transitional housing for over 3,600 women veterans and their children.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Underserving Female Veterans: Military Connection

Underserving Female Veterans: Military Connection

By Debbie Gregory.

While official policy mandates that women do not serve in combat roles in the U.S. military, the women who serve still suffer from physical and psychological injury.

Among them is retired Army Sgt. Brenda Reed, who has pleaded with VA officials for “a foot that fits, a female foot,” only to be told repeatedly that the agency doesn’t carry that kind of customized prosthetic. So every morning, for more than two years, she has had the infuriating chore of screwing on what she calls her “man foot.”

After her left leg was amputated in 2013, Reed was given the prosthesis by the Department of Veterans Affairs. But the artificial limb was so bulky and ill-fitting that it kept falling off in public.

Reed has tried to make the best of the situation, putting bright red press-on nails on the wide “man” toes.

The take-away from this is that it is vital for the VA adapt to meet the needs of the increasing numbers of female veterans.

The VA health-care system has catered almost exclusively to men, and has been slow to recognize that the 2.3 million female veterans represent the fastest-growing population turning to the agency.

VA hospitals and clinics don’t offer prenatal care or delivery. As a matter of fact, numerous VA facilities don’t have full-time gynecologistsFor even some of the most basic female wellness services, such as mammograms, there are facilities that have to outsource the services and refer the women elsewhere.

There is also a severe shortage of VA mental health therapists who are women, an especially pressing problem for female veterans trying to come to terms with sexual assaults suffered in the military.

While some VA hospitals have premier women’s clinics, others offer women little privacy, forcing them to share rooms with men and separating them at most with a curtain.

Even recently, as VA Secretary Robert McDonald has acknowledged, some hospitals didn’t have separate restrooms for women.

Military Connection: Study Finds Holes in Treatment: By Debbie Gregory

female-veteranWith the number of women separating from the military, and the increasing number of women joining the ranks, there is a growing concern that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and other government agencies are not doing enough to aid them and their distinctive needs. A report recently released by the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) details areas where policies are lacking in their support of female Veterans.

On Wednesday, September 24, 2014, the DAV released their report, Women Veterans: The Long Journey Home. The report identifies serious gender gaps in nearly every government program intended to serve Veterans, including health care, finance, job training, housing, social issues and combating sexual assault.

The DAV report found multiple inadequacies in the way that the VA cares for female Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The report blamed most of the shortcomings on a lack of regard for the separate needs of female Veterans. The study points out that these programs focus on male Veterans, who make up nearly 90% of the Veteran population, as well as current military personnel.

The VA healthcare system treated approximately 390,000 female Veterans last year at various facilities. While this number has more than doubled since September 11, 2001, it is still far lower than the estimated 5.3 million male Veterans who were treated by the VA.

Currently, one in four VA hospitals do not have a full time gynecologist on staff. Out of 920 community-based clinics that serve Veterans in rural areas 140 do not have a designated women’s health provider. According to the report, one in five female Veterans was subjected to delayed treatment or went without treatment.

With the number of women in the military increasing, the number of female Veterans is rapidly rising as well. In fact, women are the fastest growing population of Veterans by percentages, according to the VA. If the VA and the federal government do not focus on plans to care specifically for women and their needs, then they will be failing all women in uniform.

While many officials and members of the public will attempt to justify the discrepancies in treatment for female Veterans by saying that the agencies are just providing for the greater good, it is an unacceptable defense. Medical treatment cannot be a “one size fits most” mentality. Every Veteran deserves individualized care, regardless of their gender, ethnicity or ailment.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Study Finds Holes in Treatment: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: VA Healthcare for Female Vets: By Debbie Gregory

woman-veteran-lgDue to the increased participation of women in the military, especially since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the VA has been hard pressed to meet the healthcare needs of female Veterans. Because of increased demand, the VA is restructuring the healthcare system to include benefits specifically for women.

While it has been estimated that nearly 400,000 female Veterans have utilized VA healthcare over the last 15 years, currently there are more than 200,000 women in uniform. With more women serving in deployable frontline roles, the number of women serving in the military is expected to get even higher.

The number of female Veterans enrolled in VA healthcare has more than doubled since 2000, making women the fastest growing demographic in the VA. And the population of female Veterans is expected to double again by 2025.

Due to this increase in women Veterans being treated at VA facilities, the VA is continuing to overhaul the availability of services for women. In the last five years, the VA has trained more than 2,000 additional primary healthcare providers for women. These doctorsadminister blood tests and mental health services, along with gynecological care and mammograms.

But advocates for women Veterans say that the VA system has yet to fully adapt to all of the healthcare needs specific to female Veterans. The sheer number of women in the military has brought an increased need for general healthcare services for women, as well as gender-specific care for an increasing number of serious, combat-related injuries among female Veterans.

Resources like prosthetic devices and braces for wounded Veterans have historically been made and stocked for males. Most VA facilities don’t have specialized braces **or** prosthesis that would fit most women. The VA has acknowledged this and other deficiencies, and is in the process of correcting them.

The staff at Military Connection honors all Veterans for their sacrifices and their service to our country. Veterans of all ages, genders, creeds and colors deserve the best healthcare that the VA can provide. We appreciate the gains that the VA has made in improving care for female Veterans, and expect to see even more improvements made in the future.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: VA Healthcare for Female Vets:   By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: Army Veteran, 108 year old, Sets Precedence for Service

lucyLucy Coffey, an Army veteran who also happens to be 108 years old, recently visited Washington, D.C. on a mission to finally visit our nation’s capital, and pay a final tribute to her fellow World War II soldiers.

At the peak of World War II, Coffey answered the call to join the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. With poise and strength, the San Antonio native served her country, eventually being awarded the Philippine Liberation Ribbon with a bronze star.

On Friday, July 25th, Coffey was flown from Austin, TX by Honor Flight Network, a non-profit organization that transports our nation’s Veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit and reflect at their memorials. Top priority is given to the senior veterans – World War II survivors, along with those other veterans who may be terminally ill.

Coffey’s trip of her dreams began with her first stop at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. She was accompanied by a small entourage, including several family members.

Also with Coffey were volunteers from the Bexar County Veterans Service Office. They helped her get around quickly and easily, as her mobility had been greatly diminished due to a stroke last year. With an oxygen tube attached at all times, speaking is difficult, but she managed to communicate just fine, with fervent nods and smiles.

Coffey toured the memorial and enjoyed time with members from the Women’s Memorial Foundation. At a small ceremony, she received much appreciation and applause for her military service.

In 1945, Lucy was honorably discharged from the Women’s Auxiliary Corps as a sergeant, keeping her post as Army accountant and statistician for the next 13 years, serving at Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio.

Historically, women have had an uphill battle serving in the military. They have had to deal with gender stereotypes, prejudice and animosity. Recent changes that have given women a broader role in the military, with more responsibility and control than they previously had, create controversy.

Luckily, female Veterans such as Lucy Coffey provide strong role models for young women entering the military, offering a high standard of conduct, bravery, and perseverance.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Army Veteran, 108 year old,  Sets Precedence for Service:   By Debbie Gregory