By Julie Provost
While some had to pretend to be men to serve their country, others have had to go forward where a woman has never gone before to help pave the way for the rest of us. From the American Revolution to the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, women have stepped up to serve in official and unofficial capacities. You might not have heard of these kickass female veterans, but their stories vitally important.
1. Rear Admiral Grace M. Hopper
This female vet was not only a Rear Admiral but a computer scientist. When she first tried to enlist in the Navy, she was 34 and was not able to based on her age as well as her weight-to-height ratio. However, in 1943, she was able to take a leave of absence Vassar as a math professor to be sworn into the Navy Reserves. She retired from the Naval Reserve when she was 60 only to be called back to active duty a year later. She retired again in 1971, was called back in 1972, and eventually retired for the last time in 1986 after being promoted to Commodore/Rear Admiral in 1983. During her time in the service, she was assigned to program the Mark 1 computer and later lead the team that helped create the first computer language compiler which lead to modern day computer language.
2. Sergeant Lucy Coffey
In 1943, this female veteran from Indiana joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps and was present during the Luzon Campaign, a land battle in the Pacific Theater during World War II. She was later awarded the Philippine Liberation ribbon with the Bronze Star. She was discharged from the WAAC in 1945 but stayed in Japan, retiring from Kelly Air Force Base 13 years later. She was the oldest living female military veteran when she passed away at age 108 in 2015.
3. Lieutenant Reba Whittle
During World War II, Reba Whittle enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps after graduating from the school of nursing in San Antonio. In 1943, she trained as a flight nurse and left for England a year later. She flew 40 missions before her aircraft was hit, crashed, and was captured by German soldiers. She became the only American female POW in the European Theater during the war. After being released in 1945, she was awarded the Air Medal and the Purple Heart but did not receive her POW status until 1983.
4. Colonel Ruby Bradley
This veteran is one of the most decorated women in US military history. She entered the Army Nurse Corps as a surgical nurse in 1934. She was serving in the Philippians when the Japanese Army captured her three weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor. While in the internment camp, she was giving the title “Angel in Fatigues” by the other prisoners because of the way she provided medical help to the prisoners and how she aided some of the starving children in the area. After the US captured the camp, she was able to return home in 1945. She also served in the Korean War as Chief Nurse for the 171st Evacuation Hospital. She was promoted to Colonel in 1958 and retired from the Army in 1963 after receiving 34 decorations, medals, and other awards during her time in the service.
5. Major General Jeanne Marjorie Holm
Holm is the first female one-star general of the Air Force and the first female two-star general in any service branch. She enlisted in the Army in 1942, left active duty in 1946, attended college and recalled back to active duty Army in 1948. Later that year she transferred to the Air Force. She became a Major General in 1973 after becoming a Brigadier General in 1971. She retired in 1975 and was named a special assistant to President Ford for the office of women’s programs.
6. Captain Jonita Ruth Bonham
Enlisting in the Army Air Forces after nursing school, Jonita Bonham was assigned to the Air Medical Evacuation unit in the Pacific Theater. She later left the military but returned to active duty after the Korean War began. She was promoted to First Lieutenant and became a flight nurse with the 801st Air Medical Evacuation Squadron in Tachikawa, Japan. After 245 hours of medical evacuation flights, her aircraft crashed in 1950, killing the captain and several of the other troops that were with her. She was severely injured in the accident but was able to direct the evacuation of the remaining personnel on board. She was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross recovered and remained on active duty, was promoted to Captain, and then medically retired in 1952.
7. Master Sargeant Barbara Dulinsky
Barbara Dulinsky arrived in Vietnam in 1967 as the first female Marine to serve in a combat zone. She enlisted in the Marines in 1951 and volunteered to deploy to Vietnam. She served as an administrative chief with the Military Assistance Command. In total, 36 female Marines served in Vietnam from 1967-1973. She retired in 1974.
8. Colonel Ruth Alice Lucas
Ruth Lucas was the first African American woman promoted to the rank of full Colonel in the Air Force. She joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in 1942 and joined the Air Force when that branch was created in 1947. She served in Japan from 1951 to 1954 and taught English to Japanese children and college students in her off hours. She retired in 1970 after obtaining the rank of Colonel in 1968.
9. Brigadier General Rhonda Cornum
Rhonda Cornum was a flight surgeon with the 229th Attack Helicopter Regiment after joining the military in 1978. While on a Blackhawk helicopter doing a search and rescue mission, she was shot down during the Persian Gulf War in 1991. She suffered from two broken arms, a broken finger, a gunshot wound in the back, and other injuries. She was captured as a POW and took responsibility for the other lower ranking POWs she was with. She ended up writing a book about her experiences, She Went to War: The Rhonda Cornum Story, after being released in March 1991. She received eight medals and awards including the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross. She retired in 2012 as a Brigadier General after being the Commander of the Army’s Landstuhl Military Hospital in Germany.
Julie Provost is an associate editor at Military One Click and a National Guard spouse. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.