Women played important roles in WW II

Published 10:23pm Friday, March 21, 2014

Even before women were allowed to join the Army, some took the extremes of posing as men to do so. Sarah Emma Edmonds wanted to fight for her country, disguised her sex, and used the name of Frank Thompson. She became a nurse in the Second Volunteers of the United States Army and stayed in service several years becoming a successful union spy.

The first African American female to serve was Cathay Williams. She too disguised her sex and served as William Cathay in the famous Buffalo Soldiers. A small pox survivor, she was one of the first women to enlist in the Army and the first African American woman to do so.

In the case of Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, she volunteered as a civilian nurse. She later earned a commission as a Contract Acting Assistant Surgeon. Often she crossed battle lines treating injured civilians until captured by the Confederates and arrested as a spy. Later in life, she became a writer, lecturer and advocate for women’s rights. Dr. Mary Edwards Walker is the only woman awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

A native Texan is the next woman of distinction, Irene Kinne England of El Paso, Texas. A pilot in the Women Air Force Service Pilots, she ferried military aircraft, towed targets for aerial gunnery practice and transported medical patients during World War II. She  was awarded veteran status by the military, one of only a few at that time.

Of course, Eileen Collins became the first woman space shuttle commander. Her service included flying evacuated medical students and their families out of Grenada during Operation Grenada in 1983. Her achievements were a tremendous positive impact and inspiration for young women everywhere to go for it.

I am probably a little partial to the women of WW II from Selma whom I wrote specials for publication in the Selma Times-Journal. Unfortunately, three of the five are deceased now.

The late Women’s Army Corps (WAC) Virginia O. Nutt served in New Guinea during 1943-1945. She was affectionately referred to as New Guinea Ginny of which she approved. Miss Nutt was a small petite woman, but commanding in her presence. Her special appeared in the Selma Times-Journal on Tuesday, July 29, 2003.

The late Nettie F. Eskridge joined the Army Air Corps as Second Lieutenant in the Nurse Corps. Serving with the 127th Evacuation Hospital of the 7th Army, she was one of the first nurses to enter Dachau Concentration Camp after liberation by the U. S. Army 42nd & 45th Infantry Division and 20th Armored Division on April 29, 1945.

It was a daunting task of desperation trying to save the lives of the starved and tortured barely recognizable humans in the camp. Nettie was a wonderfully kind gentle person with compassion for all. Her special appeared in the Times-Journal on Friday, March 10, 2006.

The only marine in the group was the late Frances M. Lanier (Captain) who served in the U.S.  Marine Corps Women’s Reserve (USMCWR). Her years of service were 1943-1946 at Camp Elliott and Camp Pendleton, California.

She was a very talented artistic woman whose paintings were treasured.

Frances may not have given the appearance of a rugged individual, but apparently tough enough for the Marines. The Times-Journal failed to publish her remarkable story.

One of those still living here is Helen Lattal. Helen is a veteran of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) having served with 8th Air Force Headquarters at High Wycombe, England. Her years of service were 1942-1945.

She has been active in the community for many years and has served as the Commander of American Legion Post 20. She is well known in the veteran community and is a very passionate patriot. Her special was published by the Times-Journal on Wednesday, January 14, 2004.

My other woman WWII veteran who served in Europe lives in Marion, AL. Army Nurse Geraldine Vaden is still active and an absolute delight with her keen wit and charm. She attends most of the events at Marion Military Institute where her late husband taught cadets. The Friday, July 23, 2010 edition of the Times-Journal published a column of mine reporting on her birthday celebration at Archibald Hall on Judson Campus. It was her 90th year of serving God and Country.

According to the latest data, women now comprise 14 percent of our active military forces. A lot has changed over the years and women now serve in units I never would have dreamed they would. Of course, we congratulate all women from the pioneers to the present and wish them well. The way things are shaping up, we need all who love this country and are willing to defend it from tyranny within and without. Way to go girls.

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