Saluting women in uniform 76 years after Integration Act

ALPENA — Throughout history, women have always stepped up to help defend our country.

During the Civil War, women risked their lives behind enemy lines as spies. The Revolutionary War saw 3,000 nurses volunteer for the Union Army, and during WWI women were accountants, translators, and switchboard operators.

So, it should come as no surprise that while the U.S. was preparing to enter WWII, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt foresaw the need for women to perform medical, clerical, and other shore-based duties for our military, allowing more men to be deployed overseas for combat.

With congressional approval, in 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed The Women’s Reserve, a law allowing women to assist in the military for the duration of the war. Over 350,000 women joined and served, performing various roles such as truck driving, mechanics, intelligence, and supply. When the war ended, these women were relieved of their duties and returned home.

But a spark had ignited.

Realizing the enormous contributions women had made to our military, President Harry S. Truman signed The Women’s Armed Services Integration Act 76 years ago on June 12, 1948. Women were then permitted to serve as permanent and regular members of the Armed Forces. The law enabled women to earn equal pay for equal work alongside their male counterparts while learning a valuable trade.

With the progression of women’s rights, Public Law 94-106 was passed in 1975. Women could now attend military colleges, allowing the opportunity for advancement in a military career.

Today, according to the Department of Defense, women in uniform comprise 17.5% of all active military personnel and another 171,000 women serve in the National Guard and Reserves.

Kathleen Melville-Hall of Alpena, as a member of the Naval Reserve, experienced firsthand the struggles and triumphs of being a woman in uniform.

“Women were not always welcomed in the military, at times treated like second-class citizens,” Hall said. “In the early years, women were not allowed on naval ships. Our jobs consisted mainly of nursing, dental techs, all shoreside jobs.”

But as Hall discovered, that would all change.

She became stationed aboard the USNS Shughart, a naval cargo ship located 40 miles offshore in the Middle East. Hall recalled a memorable point in her career when an admiral performed her reenlistment ceremony at the Naval Memorial during a Labor Day weekend.

“The thought that a busy admiral was willing to take time out of his holiday weekend for me, meant a lot,” she said.

When asked why she enlisted in the Naval Reserve, Hall explained, “All three of my brothers were in the Armed Forces, and anything they could do, I could do better.”

In 1977, Dava Abend, of Ossineke, enlisted in the Army right out of high school.

“I was the eldest of four daughters and I didn’t want my parents to have to pay for college,” Abend said is the reason why she chose the military.

As a clarinet player, Abend’s skill earned her a place in the military band. Some of her fondest memories were performing at the White House. Abend regards her time in the military as a positive experience.

“I loved it, I learned a lot,” she said. “The Army pushed me to take control and do my best. I still shine my shoes and iron my clothes.”

Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen H. Hicks said, “Women in the military today can serve in combat roles, become Army Rangers, fighter pilots, and Four-Star Generals. Women in uniform continue to make history every day taking on roles and responsibilities that were not before possible or attainable. The full integration of women in our Armed Forces has only made our military stronger and our nation safer and more secure.”


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