View Full Version : The women of war

03-10-08, 09:20 AM
Published March 09, 2008 11:42 pm - Marine veteran Joan Willauer says “contrary to what people thought, we were not all secretaries.” Willauer was one of thousands of women who went through boot camps and donned military uniforms during World War II.

The women of war

By Doris Wedge
The Norman Transcript

Marine veteran Joan Willauer says “contrary to what people thought, we were not all secretaries.” Willauer was one of thousands of women who went through boot camps and donned military uniforms during World War II.

When it was announced in 1943 that women could enlist, Willauer was anxious to serve, but she had to wait until her 20th birthday. “We had to be 20 years old, and have our parent’s consent,” she recalls. She was one of thousands of women who were ready to do their part in the war effort.

Willauer wanted to be in the Marines “because it is the best,” she says with pride. Enlistment was “for the duration,” meaning until the war ended. She completed boot camp, which consisted of physical training and classroom work as well.

“We learned things like naval law and identifying planes.” For the next four years she handed out radio gear at Marine Corp Air Station at Cherry Point, N.C., and is proud of the contribution that she and other women made to the war effort. She is also proud that three of her children have served in the military. One grandson is a Marine and another is studying at West Point.

E’Yvonne RunningWolfWoman King was inspired by her father’s military career and joined the Air Force four decades after Willauer’s service, but she found the attitudes toward women in the service hadn’t changed since World War II. Her service spanned the years that included being on alert during the Grenada invasion and the Lebanon War.

The prevailing attitude that she experienced from men in the service was “get the hell out. We don’t want you,” King says. Her reaction? “I am from the old Army school. My attitude was to say ‘fine’ and to do my job.”

A chemical warfare specialist, her service included teaching flight crews how to protect themselves in a chemical warfare situation, and studying how the protective gear affected the pilot’s ability to function. She served four years active duty, and an additional three years in the reserves.

While servicemen who sustained injuries have always lauded the work of the nurses who cared for them, the work of servicewomen in all fields of work is just now receiving the respect it deserves. They shared a story of Marine Commandant Michael Hagee whose unit had suffered heavy loses in Iraq. Hagee tells that his attitude toward women in the military changed when he saw 14 women Marines in complete field dress ready to take the place of the lost men.

“That changed my whole opinion,” Commandant Hagee is quoted as saying.

Until current time, relatively few women have made a career in military service. Records show that only 1,400 women who served during World War II years made military their career. “Only six attained the rank of sergeant,” Willaure relates. Many of them were raised to the rank to encourage them to stay in the service “because they had specialties that were needed,” especially in the medical field. There are more than 24,000 women veterans in Oklahoma, with about 165 of them involved in the OWV organization.

The objective of the Oklahoma Women Veterans group is to celebrate the role that women have played in military service to the United States and to share their patriotism and experiences and to work for services and benefits for veterans.

The organization began in the 1980s, started by two women who had served as nurses in Vietnam. Meeting every other month, members enjoy the camaraderie and projects to benefit other military related projects. The five branches of service are represented in the OWV membership “but we don’t have a woman merchant marine,” King pointed out. The membership is growing with new members who served in Desert Storm and Iraq.

Annually the organization brings in a nationally known speaker for a fall conference that draws women veterans from several states. The Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs honors one of the organization’s members as “Oklahoma Female Veteran of the Year.” Oklahoma is one of only four states that gives recognition to an outstanding woman veteran.

King, who received the award in 2007, also is active in the local American Legion post and is an Oklahoma Certified Veteran Service Officer assisting veterans and veterans’ widows in accessing services and benefits. A member of the White Mountain Apache and Eastern Band Cherokee tribes, King is proud of the history of American Indians’ service to the country.

People wanting more information about the organization can call King at 366-6846, Willauer at 833-4140 or go to the organization’s Web site at www.okwvo.org.