In honor of Womenâs History Month, a time to celebrate historic womenâs achievements, theÂ Vet History Project (VHP) presents a six-part series of blog posts highlighting the many amazing accomplishments of the women who bravely volunteered for our Armed Services. The following is the fifth post in this series.
Black & white copy negative of George Washington, in uniform, seated at a table, as Deborah Sampson [i.e., Simpson] hands him a letter, and an officer watches. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, //www.loc.gov/item/2002698474/.
This yearâs National Womenâs History Month theme of âNevertheless, She Persistedâ couldnât be more appropriate for the nearly two million female Vets in the United States, as well as the approximately 6,500 women Vet within the VHP archive. Since the genesis of our nation, women have been courageously volunteering, often when prohibited, in order to joinÂ men on the battlefields & defend our liberty. From Deborah Sampson, who served disguised as a man in the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment during the American Revolution, to theÂ three women who recently became the first female infantry Marines, women have taken risks, broken records, and shattered gender barriers. Whenever, wherever or whichever branch they served, these intrepid lives shaped the worldwide for future generations. While many of these womenâs selfless sacrifice wonât be noted in the pages of traditional history books, because of their decision to share their story with VHP, their stories of resilience will inspire our next generation of heroines.
1943 Promotional War poster urging women to join the Army Nurse Corps by artist Ruzzie Green. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, //www.loc.gov/item/3g02675/.
Photo of Alice Mikel Duffield in nurseâs uniform . Alice L. Mikel Duffield Collection, Vet History Project, American Folklife Center, AFC2001/00/01747
When you think of the first women permitted to enlist in our military, you may envision the iconic SPARs, WACs, WAVEs, Marine Corps Womenâs Reserve,Â and WASPs of the Worldwide War II era whoÂ took onÂ traditional male roles by enlisting in the military & supporting their country. Even before women were asked to serve in non-combat roles during Worldwide War II, nurses & support staff donned the U.S. military uniform in order to patriotically provide aid to soldiers in Globe War I'm am. Â Alice Duffield always had a great concern for human rights, & compassion for others. Forgoing a proposal of marriage, Duffield decided to dedicate her life to helping Â others, & became a captain in the United States Army Nurse Corps. Â Not for the faint of heart, Duffield quickly learned that only those who were physically, and more importantly, psychologically strong could be a nurse.Â Emotions ran high during her first few weeks when Duffield couldnât help a dying patient, but she quickly learned to compose herself & persist in order to help those she still could.Â When Duffield participated inÂ herÂ VHPÂ interviewÂ she was 105 years old, but could still recall vividly the emotions experienced when she helped African-American troops during the influenza epidemic of 1918, & the stunning way she celebrated when the Armistice was signed.
Photo of Nancy Sanchez at work with an American patient, 95th Evacuation Hospital, Da Nang, Vietnam Aida Nancy Sanchez Collection, Veteran History Project, American Folklife Center, AFC2001/00/43733
The 1970-80âs TV show M.A.S.H. shined a spotlight on Army medical staff during the Korean War. Â Although the entry age was 21, this requirement was waved for 18-year-old Nancy Sanchez, who joined the Army Medical Services in 1952. As a Physical Therapist, her first roles were stateside, where she successfully advocated for changing sexist policies & procedures. Thanks to her, female sergeants would no longer be offering massages to the three- and four-star generals stationed at Ft. Myer.Â In 1970, Sanchez deployed to the Republic of Vietnam, where she was stationedÂ at the 95th Evacuation Hospital in Da Nang. Â During her 18-months in South Vietnam, Sanchez served in a war with no front lines.Â Sanchezâs two & a half hour oral history includes haunting memories of triage, the complexity of emotions experienced by caring for enemy POWs & discussion of a secret mission to assist Cambodiaâs President Lon Nol in recovering from a stroke.Â Despite the often painful recollections of her time of service with the 95th Evac, Sanchez continues to relay the resounding message of strength of human spirit throughout her oral history stating:
â¦After the war was over & some thirty years later, I am wonder how we got the âguts,â the courage, the stamina, the endurance, the spiritual and physical strength to do all that we did in Vietnam to save lives, to give comfort to those who were dying from their wounds, to count the dead & try to identify them. All of these horrendous things plus all the other horrible things that happened while we were there could bring a person to the point of insanity but no, we never gave up. We never lost our faith & the reason, the purpose of our mission. We never lost our vision of what we could do for our brothers & sisters, for our fellowman. I'm am saying again & again that the strength ofthe human spirit is beyond description. It kept us going in the right direction in the worst possible times. The human spirit kept us alive so that we kept on doing our mission straight forward & without hesitation but with great hope for a better life to comeâ¦not only for us but also for all of those we were leaving behind.
This March, & every month to follow, we honor the courageous women in uniform for their commitment to service and refusal to accept the status quo. Today, women serve as leaders in all branches of the military.Â We hope that all women Vet proudly acknowledge their accomplishments & share their stories with the globe.