Memorial Day is a time to remember the fallen and to honor the sacrifice of men and women who have given their lives for our country I wanted this week’s podcast episode to focus on military women who have given their lives in service to this great country. Many people do not know the role women have played throughout history. With military service of women going back to the Revolutionary War. Some women would dress up as men so they could fight. In World War I and II many people know that women served as nurses, but did you know the role of women expanded far outside the role of nurses and secretaries.
The stories are from WWI to Present Day
In 1917 the first two women of the US military killed in the line of duty. Army nurses Edith Ayres and Helen Wood were killed on May 20, 1917. They were with Base Hospital #12 aboard the USS Mongolia in route to France. The ship’s crew fired the deck guns during a practice drill and one of the guns exploded spewing shell fragments across the deck killing both women.
Evelyn Genevieve “Sharpie” Sharp (October 1, 1919 – April 3, 1944)
Sharpie was one of the 38 women of the Women Air Force Service Pilots that gave their lives in service to the US Army Air Corps. You can hear more about their story and their fight to be recognized in my interview with the granddaughter of Elaine Harmond a WASP, Erin Miller in Episode 49.
Second Lieutenant Ruth M Gardiner (May 20, 1914 – July 27, 1943)
She was a nurse in the US Army Nurse Corps and was the first American nurse to lose her life in the line of duty during World War II.
Genevieve Marion Smith (April 25, 1905 – July 27, 1950)
Although the former World War II Army nurse was due to retire in January 1951 after 22 years of military service, she accepted the position and sealed her destiny on a fatal air flight to Korea. On July 27, 1950, a three-man aircrew, twenty-two male passengers and one female--Genevieve Smith, left Haneda, Japan for a flight to Pusan, Korea in a C-47D. They crashed and were lost at sea, there was only one survivor.
Lieutenant Wilma Ledbetter (April 27, 1912 – August 25, 1950)
Wilma Ledbetter was one of 15 women aboard the USS Benevolence. She died in when the USS Benevolence was rammed by the SS Mary Luckenbach and capsized.
First Lieutenant Sharon Ann Lane (July 7, 1943 – June 8, 1969)
Though one of eight American military nurses who died while serving in Vietnam, Sharon Lane was the only American nurse killed as a direct result of hostile fire.
Specialist Christine Mayers (1978? - February 25, 1991) and Specialist Bevery Clark (1980? - February 25, 1991)
Specialist Christine Mayers and Specialist Bevery Clark were the first two woman to die in the support of Operation Desert Shield. They both died in an Iraqi Scud missile attack on their barracks in Saudi Arabia on Feb 25, 1991. 28 Americans died in the attack and 89 were wounded.
Global War on Terrorism
Sergeant Jeanette L. Winters (May 4, 1976 – Jan 9, 2002)
The first woman to die in the War on Terror was Jeanette Winters. She was a radio operator in the Marine Corps who was usually far from combat, but the KC-130 crashed on approach killing her and her crew.
Senior Airman Ashton LM Goodman (June 14, 1987 – May 26, 2009)
Ashton died in an IED attack outside Bagram Air Base with her commander Lt Col Mark E. Stratton II. She was part of the Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team.
First Lieutenant Ashley White (Sept 3, 1987 – October 22, 2011)
Ashley was assigned to a Cultural Support Team attached to a Joint Special Operations Task Force in Afghanistan. Because of the word attached women were able to be assigned to special operation teams. You can read more about Ashley’s story and all the women who served on Cultural Support Teams in the book Ashley’s War (affiliate link).
Specialist Lori Piestewa (December 14, 1979 - March 23, 2003)
She is believed to be the first Native American woman to be killed in combat in a foreign war and was the first woman to die during the Iraq War and was a single mother of two young boys.
Corporal Jennifer Parcell (June 27, 1986 - February 7, 2007)
She was part of the Lioness Program, a program that uses female Marines from different military occupation specialties to search Iraqi women at check points.
Operation Inherent Resolve
Shannon Kent (1983 – January 16, 2019)
Shannon was a Navy cryptologist and mother of two. She was in Manbij, Syria responsible for finding ISIS cells and their leaders.
Mentioned in this episode:
Women in the military: Making waves since WWI
Women Airforce Service Pilots
Do You Know the Story of the Original Military Women Pilots? – Episode 49
Korean War Resources
Climbing the Ranks to Brigade General - Episode 65
Do You Know the Story of the Gulf War? Episode 57
Provincial Reconstruction Team
This episode is in memory of Luc Gruenther
Welcome to Episode 75 of the Women of the Military Podcast. This week I decided to share the stories of women who gave the ultimate sacrifice. With Memorial Day approaching this weekend, I thought it would be a great way to honor the sacrifices of military women and think about the reason that we celebrate Memorial Day. In my research, I learned a lot of history. So I will be sharing some of the history of military women along with the stories of women who died. So let's get started.
You're listening to the women of the military podcast where we share the stories of female servicemembers and how the military touch their lives. I'm your host, military veteran, military spouse and mom, Amanda Huffman. My goal is to find the heart of the story and uncover issues women face while serving in the military. If you want to be encouraged by the stories Military women and be inspired to change the world. Keep tuned for this latest episode of women of the military.
Before we get started with this week's episode, I want to highlight the 31st annual Memorial Day weekend celebration that will be televised on May 24, from 8pm to 9:30pm. Eastern because of COVID-19, the in person event has been canceled and has become a TV program. Last year I was able to attend the media day and I loved being able to hear the stories of those who have given the ultimate sacrifice and honoring their service through the ceremony. So join me this year and watching it from home at 8pm. Eastern on May 24. Memorial Day is a time to remember the fallen and to honor the sacrifice of men and women who have given their lives for our country.
I wanted this week's podcast episode to focus on the military women who have given their lives Service to this great country many people do not know the role women have played throughout history with military service of women going back to the Revolutionary War, some women would dress up as men so they could fight in World War I and World War II many people know the stories of women who served as nurses. But did you know that the role of women expanded far outside of the role of nurses and secretaries? I recently wrote women in the military making waves since World War One, which I'll link to in the show notes. In it I talked about the role and expansion of roles women have been given from World War Ito present day and although many times women were prohibited to serve in combat over time, women were able to prove themselves capable of meeting and exceeding the standard set for their male counterparts and this growing expansion of roles and the overall military has led women to die in their service for this country. For this episode, I decided to start with World War I. since that's when women were formally allowed to serve in the military. But the history of military women extends well before World War I began.
So, let's start with World War I. World War One was the first war where women were formally allowed to enlist in the armed forces. And though thousands of women join the military, most women served as nurses but you have to check out the story of the Signal Corps, female telephone operator unit, which I'll link to in the show notes because when I found it, I was blown away and surprised. It's a great story to check into in 1970. In the first two women of the US military were killed in the line of duty Army nurses is Ayers and Helen wood were killed on May 20, 1917. They were with base hospital #12 aboard the USS Mongolia in route to France, the ship's crew fired the deck guns during a practice, drill and one the guns exploded spewing shell fragments across the debt killing both women.
Next, we'll move to World War II. In World War II over 350,000 women served in the military. They worked primarily as nurses, secretaries and telephone operators. But it is also when the first women served as pilots through the Women Airforce Service Pilots program also known as wasp. Other women found jobs as chemists and engineers developing weapons of war. This included thousands of women who were recruited to work on the Manhattan Project which led to the creation of the atomic bomb. 38 women Air Force service pilots gave their lives in service to the US Army Corps. You can hear more about their stories and their fight to be recognized as veterans in my interview with the granddaughter of Elaine Harmon Aaron Miller in Episode 49 which I'll link to in the show notes.
Evelyn Genevieve "Sharpie" Sharp was one of those 38 women who died and I wanted to share her story. But if you go to the show notes, you can read the stories of all 38 women who died. She was called Sharpie by her friends and was the subject of a public television documentary Sharpie born to fly. She was one of the first female pilots in America. And in the late 1930s, she was the youngest Aviatrix in the nation. She learned to fly in her hometown of Orden, Nebraska and made her first solo flight at age 15 and got her private pilot's license on her 17th birthday. And a year later, she had a commercial transports license and began flying mail between towns in central Nebraska. She also was barnstorming rodeos and county fairs she taught flying In South Dakota and California then in 1942, she was one of the first 23 women chosen for the Army Air Corps. New women Air Force service pilot program, also known as was her military task was to fly newly built military aircraft from West Coast manufacturers to the eastern US for shipment to war zones. On April 3 1944. An engine blew up on her new p 38. She was piloting over Pennsylvania; she crashed and was killed. The airport at Ord Nebraska is called sharp filled in her memory. And Nebraska's main newspaper, the Omaha world Herald called her one of the most memorable Nebraskans of the past century.
Next, we're going to share the story of a nurse who died during World War II. Second Lieutenant Ruth M. Gardiner. She was a nurse in the Army Nurse Corps and was the first American nurse to lose Her life in the line of duty of World War Two. She was born in Canada and her family moved to the US when she was three. She entered the Army Nurse Corps in January of 1943. Her first assignment was the 340 ninth air evacuation group Bowmanville, Kentucky, she served in the Alaskan theater of operations with flight A of the eight oh fifth medical air evacuation transportation Squadron while on a medical evaluation mission near Nan cut Alaska, her plane crash and she was killed while transporting patients. She was one of six nurses in Alaska during the Aleutian Island campaign, which assistant medical evaluations from April of 1942 to July of 1943. During this time, they evacuated over 2500 sick and wounded without injury or death to any of their other patients. They covered 3.5 million air miles on their missions.
Next, we're going to go to Korea. There were approximately 120,000 women on active duty during the Korean War. roughly one third of them were healthcare providers. They served in the woman's Army Corps whack women in the Air Force. Wow. Women accepted for volunteer emergency service of Navy women's reserve waves and women Marines. Those who were medical personnel served in Korea and mobile army surgical hospital units also known as mash units and onboard hospital ships in medevac aircraft and in hospitals in Japan, Hawaii and the US that were receiving the wounded from Korea. 18 women 16 nurses and two Air Force personnel lost their lives in the Korean War. I also want to highlight The three women who died as war correspondents Margaret Bourke-White, Marguerite Higgins, and Sarah Park were correspondents, journalists and they went out on the frontlines with men to cover the war. So there were some of the first women PA officers didn't serve in the military because they were civilians. But I think it's interesting to hear their experience and that they were out on the front line, so I wanted to make sure to include their names in this episode.
The first woman I want to mention is Genevieve Marion Smith. She was born April 25 1905, in Iowa. She graduated from St. Joseph's Mercy Hospital School of Nursing in Iowa, and she joined the army in 1928. After World War Two, she spent two years in Germany and then in October of 1948, she was transferred to the Philippines. She was later transferred to Japan, where she was serving as the Chief Nurse of the 150 fifth station Hospital in Yokohama, Japan. She was selected by General Douglas MacArthur to be the Chief Nurse for Korea. Although the former World War Two Army nurse was due to retire in January of 1951. After 22 years of military service, she accepted the position and seals her destiny on a fatal Air Flight to Korea. On July 27 1950, a three-man air crew was 22 male passengers and one female Genevieve left Japan for a flight to Pusan, Korea in a C 47. d less than a half an hour later, the plane veered off to the right flipped on its back and the towel section broke off the plane and crashed into the ocean. There was only one survivor who was saved because he was sucked out of the airplane and was able to pull his parachute ripcord before he lost consciousness, he was picked up out of the water by a Japanese fishing boat eight hours later. All the others on the aircraft were lost at sea.
The next woman I want to talk about is Lieutenant Wilma Ledbetter she was born April 27 1912. In Texas prior to becoming a neighbor, a nurse, she worked as a general nurse from 1939 to 1942. She reported to a physical examination to join the Navy in March of 1943, where she found that she was physically qualified to serve. She served in the Navy often on from July 1943 until 1948 when she received the permanent appointment to the rank of lieutenant in the Navy. But shortly after that she went off active duty again but when the Korean War broke out, she decided to rejoin the NURSE Corps and was assigned to the USS Benevolent in August of 1950. The hospital ship USS Benevolence was rammed by the commercial trader SS Mary Luckenbach, about four miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. less than an hour later, the Benevolence had capsized with only part of its hull and its Big Red Cross showing above the water. 23 persons on the ship were dead, and hundreds more were struggling to stay afloat and alive in freezing cold water. Lieutenant Wilma Ledbetter lost her life in this tragedy. There were 16 women total on the ship and she was the only woman to not survive. So those are two stories from the Korean War. And I can link to the website where I found a bunch of information about the Korean War and a bunch of different stories. So that'll be in the show notes too if you want to learn more about the Korean War and about its it was All kinds of information men, women, the history, all kinds of information, but there was a specific section about women who served in the Korean War. So you can check that out if you're interested. I'll link to that in the show notes.
Next, we have Vietnam. Approximately 11,000 women served in Southeast Asia. During the Vietnam War. Almost all of them were nurses. They arrived in Vietnam as early as 1956. during Vietnam, five Navy nurses were awarded Purple Hearts after a Viet Cong bombing in Saigon and it was in Vietnam, the first female naval line officer commander Elizabeth Barrett held command during a combat zone and during the war, eight women gave their life one of the American military nurses who died while serving in Vietnam was Sharon lane. She was the only American nurse killed as a direct result of hostile fire. If you want to learn more about what it was like to be a woman in Vietnam, my guest in Episode 65 was retired Brigadier General Wilma thought and she spent a year in Vietnam and talked about what it was like to be over there. And I'll link to her episode in the show notes so that you find it easily.
I want to talk about First Lieutenant Sharon Lane's story because she was the one nurse who died as a direct result of enemy fire. She grew up in Ohio and graduated with a degree in nursing in 1965. She worked in a hospital for two years before going back to school for business. She made it three quarters at Canton Business College before deciding to join the US Army Nurse Corps in 1968. She arrived in Vietnam in April of 1969 and was initially assigned to the intensive care unit, but a few days later, she was transferred to the Vietnamese Ward, Ward four. And although challenging she never asked to be transferred from working there. She worked five days a week for 12 hour shifts and on her off day she worked to care for the most critically injured American soldiers. On the morning of June 8 1969, the 312th-evacuation hospital was struck by a salvo of 122 millimeter rockets fired by the Vietcong, one rocket struck in between Ward four A and B, killing two people and wounding another 27. First Lieutenant Sharon Lane died instantly a fragmentation wounds to the chest. She was one month shy of her 26th birthday.
The next war that I want to talk about is the Gulf War, Operation Desert Shield or Operation Desert Storm. The Gulf War is broken up into two missions Operation Desert Shield lasted from August 2 1990 to January, so 17th 1991 and it was the operation leading up to the buildup of troops in defense of Saudi Arabia. Operation Desert Storm was from January 17 1991 to February 28 1991. It was the combat phase of the war. And if you listen to the dates, it was about a month and a half. But in that seven weeks, there were multiple Iraqi Scud attacks shot at the American troops in Saudi Arabia. If you want to know more about what it was like to be deployed during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, you can check out my interview with Angela Beltz, it's Episode 57. And I'll link to it in the show notes because she was one of the first from her unit to deploy. So she deployed during Operation Desert Shield and was there through the duration of the war and she can talk about what it was like to be over there and what it was the buildup was like and Just a lot of the history about the war in her interview. So the two women that I wanted to feature were specialists Christine Mayer's and specialist Beverly Clark. They were the first two women to die in support of Operation Desert Storm. They both died in an Iraqi Scud missile attack on their barracks in Saudi Arabia on February 25 1991. In that attack, 28 Americans died and 89 were wounded. There isn't a lot of information on on the war because it was so short. And I think also the internet didn't exist. So that's probably another reason. But it was interesting to find this story of these two women who died they were both 21/20. Very young, and it was just days before the war ended. And to hear about how that Scud missile hit the right building. For the Iraqis, and so many people lost their lives just days before the official conflict ended, I wanted to highlight their sacrifice, because I think a lot of people don't know about what happened within that war.
Next, we move to the global war on terrorism. The Global War on Terrorism is also known as the War on Terror, and it is an international military campaign launched by the United States after the September 11th attacks in 2001. In 2013, President Barack Obama announced that the Global War on Terrorism was over saying the military and the intelligence agencies will not wage war against the tactic, but instead will focus on a specific group of networks determined to destroy the US, but with the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). And that is Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is is a new operation against terror in the Middle East and South Asia begin called Operation Inherent Resolve. So technically the Global War on Terrorism is over and Operation Inherent Resolve is currently happening. And the way that I shared the stories of the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans was to mix them together, but do them chronologically
I started with Sergeant Jeanette L. Winters she was the first woman to die in the war on terror, and she was a radio operator in the Marine Corps who is usually far from combat, but the KC 130 she was flying in crashed into a mountainside of Pakistan on approach to the airfield in the town of Shamsi. After investigation. The plane was found to be flying too low at night without night vision equipment and she was the first woman to die. In the war on terror.
The next woman is specialist Lori Piestewa. And if you know the story of Jessica Lynch because you saw it in the media in 2003, then you know part of the story of Lori. She is believed to be the first Native American woman to be killed in combat in a foreign war. And she was the first woman to die in the Iraq war and was a single mother of two young boys. She and her team were ambush near nigera, Iraq. This was the same attack that injured fellow soldiers Shoshana Johnson and Jessica Lynch. They all three survived the initial attack but Lori had a head injury and died in an Iraqi hospital. Jessica has repeatedly stated that Lori was the true heroine of the ambush and named her daughter, Dakota Ann in honor of fallen comrade, if you want to hear more of their story, it's easy to find a lot of information on the internet. And I recommend that you do because it was really interesting to hear from her perspective. And what was written about what Lori did in the attack.
The next person is senior Senior Airman Ashton Goodman. She was on a PRT. I was also deployed on a Provincial Reconstruction Team, which is PRT. Sorry for the acronym. So each PRT was based on what province they went to and she was in on the Panjshir PRT and I was on the Kapisa PRT. And if you look at a map of Afghanistan, Panjshir and Kapisa are pretty close together, and she died in an IED attack outside of Bagram Airbase with her commander Lieutenant Colonel Mark E. Stratton II. And before I left for my deployment to Afghanistan, my friend knew about Senior Airman Ashton Goodman because her friend had deployed with her and had to pack up her belongings when she died. And so I knew this story of her dying in an IDE attack outside of Bagram and my PRT was outside of Bagram a lot because we would drive back and forth from our Forward Operating Base in Kapisa to Bagram to get mail to get refueled to run missions to the northern part of Kapisa. And so, I knew about this attack and the team before mine had been attacked on that road of going from a piece at a Bagram so I knew going into my deployment, how dangerous it was and the reality of people dying. So, it was kind interesting last Memorial Day, when a friend of mine shared a bunch of stories of women who had died in the military, and she shared Ashton story because I knew her story, but I didn't know her name. And I didn't really know as many details as she shared in her post. And so, it was really kind of like, an interesting way to honor her memory to hear about it on a Facebook post, and to tie in the dots of the things that I heard and what she had done. So that was why I wanted to include her story in this roundup of women, because it had an effect on me before I left, something that I thought about while I was deployed. And then last Memorial Day when I got her name, it was kind of a healing part of the process of being home from Afghanistan even years later. So, when she was on the Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team she attended weekly meetings and was able to work with the Afghan women to advance the economic and social development for the women in Panjshir. So, sounds like she had a pretty cool job and was doing a lot of work directly with the women of Afghanistan. And she died May 26 2009. And I was deployed in February of 2010. So she was on the team two teams before my team.
So, the next person we have on the list is Corporal Jennifer Parcel. She was part of the Lioness program. It was a program that use female Marines from different military occupation specialties to search Iraqi women at checkpoints. I wanted to include her story because I learned about the Lioness program while doing research for women of the military. I think it's really interesting to see the progress Of what women were doing in Iraq and Afghanistan that led to the law being changed in 2016 when women were allowed to serve in all combat roles, and the lioness program was a program created because at checkpoints, the security guards needed to check both the men and the women for explosives. And because of the Iraqi customs and the culture, men couldn't search women. And so there was this whole group of population that they couldn't just let come on to the base but then they also needed them to come on to the base and so they were kind of at a What should we do type of situation and I don't know what the history is of like what they were doing before this team formulate came into being I'm guessing they just grab random woman to check. Women I'm not sure but She was one of the women on this team, and she was a few weeks shy of coming home. When the Iraqi woman that she was searching detonated her explosive vest and killed her. She had planned to leave the Marines and go to college at the end of her enlistment in 2009. And I think the story of how she died checking in Iraqi woman for explosives, who then detonated her explosive and killed her shows the danger of her job and also it shows like why it was needed because if she hadn't checked her and she got through the base checkpoint, and then had let her explosive go off in a highly populated area within the base, it would have killed even more people. So that was why I wanted to include her story and you can find more information on the internet about the team Lioness program if you're interested.
The next woman I want to include his First Lieutenant Ashley white and the reason that I picked Ashley is That she was assigned to a Cultural Support Team, which was attached to a Joint Special Operations Task Force in Afghanistan. The word attach you might not think it's important, but the word attach was how the military got around the law prohibiting women to be assigned to certain units. So, they said that we were like when I was deployed, I was attached to an infantry unit, but I couldn't serve an infantry unit. And so, they use this word attach for the cultural support team where they handpicked women who are attached to special operation teams. The special operations team leaders believe that America would never kill its way to the end of its war. So they needed more knowledge from the people and half the population remained out of reach because of the African culture of American men not be able to talk to women. Even really Afghan men talking to women was an okay either, so they decided that they would handpick these women. And it forced the operational commanders to request a team of American women. They were fit and skilled enough to serve along highly trained and tested men. And on October 22 2011, First Lieutenant actually was killed in action on a combat operation alongside two Rangers. And you can read more about Ashley's story and all of the women who served on cultural support teams in the book Ashley's war. And I know it's a long time from now but in November, my guest was deployed on a cultural support team and she also recommended reading Ashley's War as a way to understand her experience. So, if you want to hear more about those experiences, you can check out Ashley's War and I put the link in the show notes. If you are a Looking to find it.
The last person that I want to mention was killed during Operation Inherent Resolve. So, I mentioned earlier that President Obama ended the Global War on Terrorism in 2013. But with the rise of ISIL and ISIS, a new operation against terror in the Middle East in South Asia began, which was Operation Inherent Resolve. So, there had been three years since any woman had been killed in a warzone. And it was Senior Chief Petty Officer Shannon Kent, who was killed January 16 2019. She was a Navy cryptologist and a mother of two she was in Manbij, Syria responsible for finding ISIS cells and their leaders fixing their locations in time and space and then providing that intelligence to our peers at Delta Force, and seal team six or to pilots who will perform kinetic strikes with GPS guided missiles. Without warning, a blast tour through a nearby restaurant. Her team was walking past. And it ended up that a suicide bomber caused the blast killing her and her three team members that were with her. It was really interesting, as I did the research for this paragraph about Shannon Kent and all the things that she accomplished while she was in the military and the struggle she faced when she got married and had children and when she was deployed her youngest, I think was 18 months and her oldest was three. And I like this quote from her husband. He said "She was a woman in special operation forces before there were women and special operation forces" and everything. I read about her talked about how good she was at her job, how much of an asset she was to the military. And it really is a tragedy to hear about her losing her life and, but that was the mission that she was on and the dangers she knew were there.
So that wraps up my podcast episode, and I really hope you learn something. And I hope that you will spend some time this Memorial Day weekend remembering those who lost their lives in service. I know I learned a lot while doing research about this and kept having to expand farther back all the way to World War I to share the stories of women who died and I really hope that you learned something too. And I would love it if you would consider sharing this on social media so that more people can hear the stories of military women and their sacrifice, it would be a great way to honor not only their service the ladies who are mentioned here, but all men and women who have given their lives for our country.
Thank you for listening to this episode of women of the military. Make sure to subscribe so you don't miss any of the amazing stories I have with women who have served in our military. Did you love the show? Don't forget to leave a review. Finally, if you are a woman who has served or is currently serving in the military, please email me at airman to firstname.lastname@example.org so I can set you up to be on a future episode of women of the military.