First hour, first day: Esther Blake's story

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Reggie Manning
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
Editor's Note: This is part two of an eight-part series that highlights some of the men and women who have been influential in the early history of the United States Air Force. Part three will feature John L. Levitow.

Known as the "first woman in the Air Force," Staff Sgt. Esther Blake holds the accolade of joining the newly formed Air Force on the first hour of the first day it was authorized for women on July 8, 1948.

In the 1940's, with the women's civil rights movement in full motion and the men gone to fight in World War ll, women stepped up to take their place in the civilian workforce. With prior service in 1944 and 1947 in the Army Air Forces, Blake jumped at the opportunity to once more serve her country as the Air Force initially opened the doors for women.

As a widow and a mother of two sons who were currently fighting in the war, Blake's motivation to join was fueled by the heartbreaking news that her eldest son had been shot down over Belgium and was now missing. She is quoted by the Miami Herald as saying that her reason for joining the Women's Air Corp was to free a soldier from clerical work to be able to fight and hopefully speed up an end to the war.

"If I can do this, my efforts will be worthwhile," Blake said.

With her second son, Lt. Tom Blake, now too missing in war as a result of being shot down in his B-25 Bomber over Italy, Blake never lost hope and stayed focused on her mission at hand. Eventually both of her sons returned home with only minor wounds and a chest flooded with decorations.

Assigned to numerous bases throughout the United States - Alaska and the Yukon Territory - Blake continued to serve her country. With a brief separation in the mid-1940's to return to her civilian job in Miami, Blake was recalled and returned to an Army Assignment at Fort McPherson near Atlanta.

Blake remained on active duty until 1954 and ventured off into civil service at the Veterans Regional Headquarters in Montgomery, Ala.

Eight years after her death on Oct. 17, 1979, the Air Force Senior NCO Academy at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., named one of their dormitories honoring Staff Sgt. Esther Blake.

As a symbol of women's rights, Blake paved the way for female enlistees and showed the world that patriotism isn't defined by a person's gender, but simply by one's heart.

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