Honoring the Women of WWII: Their Legacy of Bravery and Service

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On the recently passed 75th anniversary of D-Day, people everywhere honored those who sacrificed so much to assist in bringing about the end of a terrible war. World War II (WWII) was a defining event for most nations moving into the 20th and even the 21st century. One of the key changes in WWII, particularly for the United States, was the systematic involvement of women in the war effort. Before WWII women always assisted during times of war in various roles including nursing, spying, and maintaining the Homefront.[1] Some even fought, but only when disguised as men.[2] However, it was not until WWII that women gained the same protections as men in the military with the creation of the Women’s Army Corps, which allowed women to work in hundreds of fields, besides nursing, from intelligence to parachute rigging.[3] With their expanded role in the military and a second world war looming, women stepped up both at home and abroad, leaving a lasting legacy for women today.

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At home, women stepped up in various roles to ensure that national industries remained operational. This was not the first time that women entered the workforce. It was, however, the first-time women entered traditionally masculine fields and in large numbers, with more than five million women entering the workforce between 1940 and 1945.[4] We have probably all seen the famous “Rosie the Riveter” posters designed to encourage women to enter the labor force. Looking beyond this mere image can help us see the legacy of these real-life ‘Rosies’ which led to widespread change for women throughout the 20th century.

While many women were fired from their jobs at the end of the war and returned to their homes, there was a fundamental change in the way women viewed their role. Women now had skills to work outside the home and felt the fulfillment that comes from supporting yourself and your family.[5] Even those women who returned to their homes felt the need for change as they had proven their capability and wanted the opportunity to serve their country and provide for their family like any man. This drive would be fundamental for women’s equality movements in the coming decades.[6]

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Beyond support on the home front, many women also joined all branches of the American military services in various capacities. More than 350,000 women joined the armed services during WWII; first through the Women’s Army Corps (WACs), but then also in the Navy (WAVES), Air Force (WASPS) Coast Guard (SPARs) and Marine Corps (Women Marines) equivalents.[7] These brave women served in many capacities ranging anywhere from office work to flying planes. There were women killed in action, taken as prisoners of war, and awarded medals. These women stepped up in a time of crisis despite difficulties and opposition from some claiming that they should not be there. In the end, their bravery paved the way for change.

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Following WWII, women were kept on in an official capacity within the United States Armed Forces for the first time. Originally, the WAC and other women’s groups were supposed to last for the duration of the war plus six additional months. This was not the case. After WWII, the WAC and women in all branches began the long road to be fully integrated into the US military.[8] From this point on during conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan women served as an integral part of the U.S. Military.

The brave women who came before us, including those who participated and sacrificed in WWII, paved the way for women to be more fully integrated into the American national security apparatus. Since WWII women have made great strides in the military. To name a few, in 1993 women were authorized to fly combat missions; in 1994 Capt. Kathleen McGrath became the first woman to command a U.S. Navy Warship; in 2004 Col. Linda McTague became the first woman to command a U.S. Air Force fighter squadron; in 2008 Gen. Ann Dunwoody became the first woman to receive four-star officer rank; in 2011 female officers were allowed to deploy on submarines; in 2016 all combat jobs opened to women; and in 2016 Gen. Lori Robinson became the first woman to lead a unified combatant command.[9] These moments and so many others have led women in the military and national security apparatus towards equality with men and it all started with the women of WWII who refused to be swept aside when the fighting was done.

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As we honor those who have sacrificed so much for our country, I would like to take a moment to honor the women who came before me. The women who fought not only for their country but for every woman and girl who would come after them with dreams of serving her nation in many different capacities. At the WWII monument in DC, there is a quote by Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby which states, “Women who stepped up were measured as citizens of the nation, not as women… This was a people’s war, and everyone was in it.” It is my hope that the legacy of these brave women reminds us all that we work best when we take on the future together, not only in times of war or when the need is dire, but every moment of every day.

-by EJ

 

Image Sources:

Image 1 – https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-27677889

Image 2 – http://blog.covingtonaircraft.com/2011/09/30/role-of-women-in-world-war-2-in-aviation-part-2/

Image 3 – https://www.nationalww2museum.org/students-teachers/student-resources/research-starters/women-wwii

Image 4 – http://womenofwwii.com/

Image 5 – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_the_military

 

References

[1] Samantha L. Quigley, “By Stepping up to Fill a Need, These Pioneers Blazed New Trails,” USO, 4 January 2016. https://www.uso.org/stories/118-women-of-world-war-ii.

[2] Task & Purpose, “Timeline: A History of Women in the US Military,” Task and Purpose, 8 March 2017, https://taskandpurpose.com/timeline-history-women-us-military.

[3] “History,” Women in the Army, https://www.army.mil/women/history/.

[4] Khan Academy, “American Women and World War II,” Khan Academy, 2019, https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/us-history/rise-to-world-power/us-wwii/a/american-women-and-world-war-ii.

[5] IBID, Khan Academy.

[6] Annette Mcdermott, “How World War II Empowered Women,” History, 10 October 2018, https://www.history.com/news/how-world-war-ii-empowered-women.

[7] History.com Editors, “American Women in World War II,” History, 21 August 2018, https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/american-women-in-world-war-ii-1.  

[8] IBID, “History”.

[9] IBID, Task & Purpose.

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