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Program focuses on history of women in the military

Female pilots, from left, Frances Green, Margaret (Peg) Kirchner, Ann Waldner and Blanche Osborn, walk from their aircraft at Lockbourne Army Air Force Base in Ohio. The four are members of a group of Women Airforce Service Pilots who have been trained to ferry the B-17 Flying Fortresses.

U.S. AIR FORCE

By SUE STERLING | The Daily Star-Journal, Warrensburg, Mo. (TNS) | Published: November 13, 2018

WARRENSBURG —  Women have served in the military since the Revolutionary War —  mostly unrecognized and under-appreciated until recent times, Teresa Shane, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2513 commander, said.

Shane presented a tribute to those women in a Lifelong Learning program Saturday afternoon, Nov. 10, at the VFW Post on Lakeview Drive.

The post, which came into existence in April 1932, now has 155 members, Shane said, including more than a dozen women. The members, ranging in age from 25 to 93, are veterans of every war since World War II.

The program, held in conjunction with the Veterans Day weekend, consisted of several videos demonstrating "the history of how we got here because of the veterans, and, more amazingly, the women who came before us," Shane said.

While women officially were not allowed to serve in combat roles until 1987, some, disguised as men, served during the Revolutionary War. Anna Marie Lane, Deborah Samson and Margaret Corbin were the first women to receive disability pensions for being wounded in action, she said.

Women served as nurses in the Civil War and in the Army and Navy during World War I. The first American women enlisted into the regular armed forces were 13,000 women admitted into active duty in the Navy. They served in jobs stateside, she said, and were treated as veterans after the war.

Women recruited by the Army and Marine Corps served as telephone operators, stenographers and clerks.

In World War II, women served in traditional roles and also "took to the skies" as members of the Womens Airforce Service Pilots. Some 25,000 applied and only 1,100 were accepted she said. They flew all types of military aircraft, ferrying them from factories to bases around the country and sometimes, overseas.

The WASPS did not see combat, but 38 died in crashes. Because they were considered civilians, their families did not receive any benefits.

In the 1940s, women also served as codebreakers, saving lives and shortening the war, Shane said.

In June 1948, Sen. Margaret Chase Smith of Maine sponsored the Women's Armed Services Integration Act, which restricted women to 2 percent of the military and restricted the rank women could receive.

In 1967, the restrictions were repealed, and women began to move up the ranks.

Military academies opened to women in 1975, and the missile field in 1977.

Through the 1980s, the first women graduated from the academies and women were promoted to senior enlisted ranks.

"Desert Shield and Desert Storm were our test as women, as military services and as a country," Shane said. "Other countries have women in the direct line of fire. The U.S. came late to that party."

In 1987, the Combat Exclusion Law banning women from serving on warships was lifted.

Women became prisoners of war, 16 died in the war and more than 40,000 served.

"The number of women engaged in major U.S. combat operations is steadily growing," Shane said.

The number climbed from 770 in 1989's Panama invasion to 41,000 in the Gulf War in 1991, to 300,000 in the post 9/11 Afghanistan and Iraqi campaigns.

Today, about 15 percent of U.S. troops are female, Shane said. They serve in the medical corps, communications, intelligence, supply, personnel and more.

Shane, who joined the Army National Guard at age 17, served in Desert Storm for seven months, returning home in 1991 to an assortment of challenges, including trying to return to civilian life and "reconcile the combat me with the home me."

"Some returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have far worse experiences," she said. "They may face homelessness, traumatic brain injuries, PTSD, sexual assault, addiction to pain medications, anger, suicidal thoughts and (are) unable to find a new normal."

Others have reintegrated well, Shane said, starting new careers, pursuing education, starting businesses and serving in veterans organizations.

She offered some suggestions for helping returning veterans, including self-help, such as finding someone they can talk to about their experiences.

Employers can help by recognizing veterans' skills and assets and finding a place for them in their businesses, she said, and encourage them to seek any help needed and work with them to help them understand the business and their place in it.

Other ways the community can help, she said, is by patronizing veteran-owned businesses, attending Veterans Day events, donating to veteran organizations, sponsoring a companion dog, and referring those with PTSD to the PTSD Coach Online.

"Don't let us get away with behaving badly," Shane said. "Our social skills suffer after being in a combat zone for long periods of time."

And if a veteran is uncomfortable in enclosed spaces, she said, do not put them in a cubicle where they cannot see anyone coming or where they will be surprised by loud noises.

She said, thank veterans for their service.

"So many veterans have never heard the words 'thank you,'" she said.

___

(c)2018 The Daily Star-Journal (Warrensburg, Mo.)
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The funeral service for World War II WASP pilot Elaine Harmon at Arlington National Cemetery on Sept. 7, 2016. WASPS Shirley Kruse, Shutsy Reynolds and Marty Wyall smile with family members of Elaine harmon's after the memorial service.
MEREDITH TIBBETTS/STARS AND STRIPES

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