Women supporting the war effort

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Vanessa LaBarge
  • 341st Civil Engineer Squadron
In 1908, the Army and Navy established the Nurse Corps, therefore unlocking the door for women in the service. In WWI nearly 13,000 women were assigned to the Navy and Marine Corps serving mostly on hospital trains and ships. Of these, at least three nurses were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, our nation's second highest military honor. At the end of WWI the women's movement seemed to fizzle out within the U.S. military; but their great contributions had already paved the road for even greater accomplishments to come. It was in great part because of these women who served in the military that President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress in 1918 to allow women the right to vote. In August 1920, the 19th Amendment was added, granting women the right to vote.

With the start of WWII, the job for supporting the war machine fell especially heavy on the shoulders of many women. At this time when men were off on the frontlines fighting the war, more than 6 million women stepped into the workforce at home. Women stepped in to unprecedented jobs that left such iconic figures as "Rosie the Riveter." Other women supported the war efforts indirectly by volunteering to enter the work force as firemen and even cab drivers, something unheard of at that time. This was also a time for the military to lean upon women, with more than 74,000 in the Nurse Corps and more than 350,000 total women directly serving the war effort -- a women's place in the military started to emerge. Of these women more than 1,000 became Women Air Force Service Pilots or WASP, serving as pilots both home and abroad in every aspect of aviation except combat. These women even flew aircraft the male pilots were scared to fly, such as the B-26 "Widow Maker," and the B-29 "Super Fortress," both aircraft which most male pilots though to be deathtraps. Even though so many women participated in the war efforts, during demobilization, women began to be phased out of the military expected to return to the home and take on the traditional role as a wife and mother.

Not until 1948 did President Truman sign Public Law 625 which finally laid the path for women to serve in the military during peace time operations. As the "Forgotten War" kicked off, once again many women stepped up to the plate and served honorably in Mobile Army Surgical Hospital units assisting with the health and care of injured soldiers in Korea. These women performed their duty to their country with little recognition, but helped to care and bring home thousands of soldiers that otherwise would have had little chance of surviving.

Even in Vietnam, more than 10,000 women served in theatre, many participating in MedEvac Operations for wounded soldiers and coming under the same fire and in the same living conditions as the men next to them. Women's invaluable support in war efforts continued trough the Gulf War to today in Iraq and Afghanistan. In today's military we can see how women have taken on even much more active roles in war efforts, to the point where many come under fire and become casualties, even though they are not yet assigned to "combat" roles.

Tracing back the distinguished and proud heritage of women in the military we can be certain that we will continue to see women breaking new grounds and setting more historic milestones.