G.I. Janes

2013-02-27 19:59:24
LEARN MORE  
To hear more from Ethel, Mary and Violet,
as well as other women veterans, make a
point to attend the Women in History
program at Vanguard’s Veterans Courtyard
of Honor on March 25 from 4-6 p.m.  
National Women’s History Museum :: nwhm.org
The Global Center for Women and Justice
at Vanguard University :: gcwj.vanguard.edu

Though the role of women in the military has often been fodder for debate, the accomplishments and commitment of women veterans are too often glossed over. Sandra Morgan, director of The Global Center for Women and Justice (GCWJ) at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, wants to rectify that. The Center has taken on an innovative project with the Boeing Community Foundation “to design a small pilot program to build an Orange County Women Veterans Network (OCWVN) that will create a living safety net for returning women veterans,” she says. “The stats tell us we have 9,600 right here in Orange County. The newly returning women veterans face some unique challenges.”

Each March, the GCWJ celebrates Women’s History month. This year, they decided to focus on women veterans. “I met a few from WWII and it occurred to me that the history aspect of this is heartwarming. I haven’t encountered many events for women veterans,” Morgan explains, “but these women deserve to be celebrated. They’ve contributed greatly to the history of our country.”

So this month, the GCWJ will honor the contributions of women veterans at home and abroad. Morgan and her team are taking actions to connect women veterans to one another while also giving recently returned troops an infrastructure as they transition.  
“We want to celebrate this generation of veterans,” Morgan says. “At the same time, we want to build a community response to help them deal with transition issues.”
The approach of the GCWJ spans generations – opening up dialogues between women who would never have met otherwise. But perhaps the biggest success is the focus on giving women veterans a platform to share their stories.  

We’ve collected some of these stories here, as told by the women who lived them.

Ethel Stark
Santa Ana
94 Years Old
Veteran of World War II

My experience in the war started with Pearl Harbor. I was working outside Twin Falls, Idaho, at the time, renting a room in a house of the town judge. I remember that morning, when the news first broke over the airwaves. I came downstairs for breakfast and everyone was talking about it. It stole my breath away, but soon I started wondering, “What’s going to happen next?”

My first instinct was: “How can I be some help?” I didn’t care where they put me to work or what the job was, I just wanted to do something. Soon, they began recruiting for the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). I passed the test but flubbed the interview, so I went back to work and moved on. Still, I couldn’t quite get the idea of being part of the armed services out of my head. Shortly thereafter, the Navy started up the WAVE Program. I passed the intelligence test again but this time I flunked the physical. They didn’t like the way my teeth set and they were afraid I was going to run up big dental bills. Again, I went back to work, but before long I decided to try the Army a second time. I enlisted in January of 1942 and did my basic training in Daytona Beach.

Eventually, I ended up in Washington, D.C., assigned to the Joint Chiefs of Staff handling classified documents. Year later, I found out that when they were considering me for the job they sent a man into the foothills of Idaho to interview the people I knew as a child. They talked to my teachers and even the postmaster who delivered letters to my house. Once I was cleared, I was assigned to an office running off dictations on the old mimeograph machines. At the time, the Joint Chiefs of Staff was on Constitution Avenue and we’d deliver papers all over Washington, including to the newly opened Pentagon.  

One night, I went to a serviceman’s dance. Apparently the Navy got better information than the Army because inside it was a sea of blue uniforms. A nice fellow noticed me – I guess I stood out as one of the only Army girls there – and six months later we were married.  

When the war was over they began discharging us and I followed my husband’s movements with the Navy. We raised four boys together and when it was time to go back to work, my war experience helped me get a job with President Ford’s office in California. I’ve always felt that I kind of lucked into military life. I was doing my duty as a citizen – we all need to contribute. But I suppose that if you stop to think that I started as the daughter of a homestead farmer and ended up working for a former president, it sounds pretty neat.

Violet Romero
Downey
32 Years Old
Veteran of The Iraq War

In 2003, I was on the ground as an enlisted Marine for the initial surge. We trained in Kuwait for a few weeks and landed in Iraq by March 13 [the war officially began on March 20].

I worked as a radio operator, in charge of communications setup with the Marine Air Support Squadron. My job was to orchestrate communication from the ground to the air. I quickly grew familiar with the area, so I was often chosen as a driver as well. I had a good group and I was never made to feel like I didn’t matter. Wartime and the military became a new normal.  

When I came back to the U.S. it was as a Marine combat instructor in North Carolina. At first, I didn’t see any change. I was still around Marines so everything felt normal. But when I left the corps and entered civilian life, I had a difficult adjustment period. In the Marines, if we needed to vent we had each other. We all knew what the others were talking about. That’s not to say that I was numb, but my job was to sweep it aside. That’s what I signed up for.  

I found myself missing the structure and the teamwork I’d experienced with the Marines. I didn’t have people who understood what I had gone through or that civilian life felt challenging for me. In 2011, I was diagnosed with PTSD but wasn’t made aware of the diagnosis for the first year. Now that I can put a name to what I’ve been dealing with, I’ve tried to go to counseling and get involved with other veterans. I’m working with the American Legion, The Women Veterans Network and with Vanguard.  

I left the military because I have a daughter, and being a mom became my central focus. I still miss that life but my responsibility to my daughter comes first. There are rough times in the military, of course, but I loved what I did. In fact, I can say, in all truthfulness, that I enjoyed even the bad times, because the healing process made me a better person.

Mary Wickman
Irvine
61 Years Old
Retired Navy Captain

I graduated from nursing school just after the Vietnam War. Naturally, there was some apprehension about what was involved in entering the armed services. But after working for a couple of years, I decided to look into it. I chose to join the Navy – they had a great recruiter and I liked the uniforms.  

I joined to see the world, but ended up stationed in Port Hueneme in Ventura County. While there, I had a chance to do everything from delivery to the recovery room. Junior nurses in the armed forces have a chance to get involved in leadership very early in their careers. While I was enlisted, I met my husband, who was stationed nearby in Port Magoo. I left the military for a while when my kids were little, and when they got older, I joined the reserves again. I used my benefits to get my masters, and later my Ph.D.

Historically, nursing has been primarily a women’s profession so I never felt a perception of not having equal opportunity or feeling discriminated against. In fact, it’s been an incredibly rewarding experience. I’ve had the chance to work with really great professionals, wonderful people who are dedicated to their countries.



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