Originally known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day has its origins in the observances of organized women’s groups who would come together and use flowers to decorate the graves of loved ones who died in the Civil War. And historically, from the American Revolutionary War to the present, women have always volunteered in defense of our country and served in a variety of ways, but as noted by the National Women’s History Project, “Many of their contributions have been forgotten and are not recorded in today’s history books.”
So we’re taking this opportunity to call special attention to all of the women who have selflessly and bravely served our country, alongside the men who have done the same.
WWI: Over 24,000 women served in World War I half of whom were nurses in the Navy, Army, and Red Cross.
WWII: From 1942-1945, while men fought in the battlefront of World War II, over 18 million women filled the civilian and defense positions created is the country’s shift to wartime productions.
Today: In Iraq, the front line is everywhere and everywhere in Iraq, women in the U.S. military fight. More than 155,000 of them have served in Iraq since 2003. This is 4 times the number of women sent to Desert Storm in 1991- and more than 430 have been wounded and over 70 killed. This is almost twice the number of U.S. military women killed in action in Korea, Vietnam, and Desert Storm combined.
- During the Mexican War, Elizabeth C. Newcume, in male attire, was brought into military service at Fort Leavenworth in September 1847. She served ten months and spent time fighting Indians at Dodge City until her sex was discovered and she was discharged.
- The first woman to receive The Medal of Honor was Dr. Mary E. Walker, a contract surgeon during the Civil War.
- The first woman to receive The Purple Heart was Annie G. Fox while serving at Hickam Field during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec 7 1941.
- Loretta Walsh was the first woman to enlist in March 1917.
- The first military all women band was the Women’s Army Band organized at Fort Des Moines in 1942. It was led by then sergeant, MaryBelle Nissly.
- In 1967 Master Sergeant Barbara J. Dulinsky, who had volunteered for duty in Vietnam, reported to the Military Assistance Command in Saigon – the first woman Marine ordered to a combat zone.
- In 1990 Commander Darlene Iskra became the first woman to command a U.S. Navy ship – the U.S.S. Opportune.
- In 2008 Ann E. Dunwoody became the first female four-star general in U.S. military history.
- In August 2015 Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver were the first women ever to successfully complete U.S. Army Ranger School, considered “one of the toughest training courses for which a soldier can volunteer,” and subsequently became the first women to earn the prestigious Ranger tab.
- In April 2016 Capt. Kristen Griest made history once again by becoming the Army’s first female infantry officer.
For a complete timeline of the history of military women visit the Women In Military Service For America Memorial, the official site of the Women’s Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, a unique, living memorial honoring all military women – past, present and future – and the only major national memorial honoring women who have served in our nation’s defense during all eras and in all services.
this story was updated in May 2016
About The Lead Photo
Between 1942 and 1944, at the height of World War II, more than a thousand women left homes and jobs for the opportunity of a lifetime… to become the first in history to fly for the U.S. military. They volunteered as civilian pilots in an experimental Army Air Corp program to see if women could serve as pilots and relieve men for overseas duty. These women became the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II, better known as the WASP. Under the determined leadership of Jacqueline Cochran, Nancy Harkness Love, and General Henry “Hap” Arnold the WASP exceeded beyond all expectations. (Source: Texas Woman’s University)