NVMM Reads: “Heroism Begins with Her: Inspiring Stories of Bold, Brave, and Gutsy Women in the U.S. Military”

“Heroism Begins with Her” shares the story of more than 70 women and their service in the United States Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. An excellent resource for learning more about the evolution of women’s roles in the U.S. Military, Conkling’s research introduces readers to the lesser-known history of women who chose to serve in the military, even when it was not permitted.

The book is divided into sections based on conflict, from the Revolutionary War through present-day. Each section gives an overview of the conflict in addition to many photographs and illustrations by Julia Kuo. You may recognize some of the names like Harriet Tubman and Bea Arthur, while others are unsung heroines.

Visit the NVMM to learn more about these exceptional women, many of whom are featured on our Museum Timeline.

Extend Your Learning:

Ask questions about this story.

  • Why did some women disguise themselves as men?
  • In addition to actress Bea Arthur, can you think of other female celebrities who served?
  • Why is it important to make sure that these women’s stories are told?

Check out some of out past blog posts about women in the military:

Learn more about inspirational women in the military!

Explore the stories of some of our AAPI Servicewomen and their fight to be recognized.

Check out some stories about women in the sky who were pioneers in the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

Choose one of the inspiring women in this book and create a poster about her accomplishments. Share your creation with us by sending an image to education@nationalvmm.org to be featured on our website or tag us on Instagram @NationalVMM!

If you are one of our central Ohio neighbors, check out the book at your local branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library or search WorldCat.org to find the book in a library near you!

Commanding the Skies: Inspiring Women of Aviation

Did you know that women have contributed to the air and space industry since 1784? When powered flight was first introduced, female pilots dove right in and began breaking speed and altitude records. They were also competing and winning against men in air races. During World War II, women from every continent helped with the war effort even though the military restricted women’s participation. More than 20 years later, women were finally able to fly in the U.S. Armed Forces, beginning with the Navy and Army in 1974 and then the Air Force in 1976. On July 31, 1991, the U.S. Senate lifted the ban on military women flying in combat and by 1998, servicewomen were flying combat missions. We introduce you to a few of those pioneering women of flight.

Willa Brown helped create aviation school to incorporate African-Americans into aviation and later into the military. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force.

Lieutenant Willa Brown

Semper Vigilans . . . Always Vigilant. Lieutenant Willa Brown was the first African American officer in the Civil Air Patrol, the civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force. In addition, to being an American aviator, she was a lobbyist, teacher and civil rights activist. In 1938, she was the first African American woman to earn her pilot’s license in the United States. She actively pushed back against the limited career fields open to African Americans. In fact, she trained hundreds of pilots, several of whom went on to become Tuskegee Airmen.

WASP Hazel Ying Lee

As America was drawn into World War II, it became clear that there weren’t enough male pilots to sustain the war effort at home. The Women Airforce Service Pilots or WASP were created in 1943, under the command of famed aviator Jacqueline Cochran. Hazel Ying Lee was the first Chinese American pilot to fly for the WASP. Upon graduation, Lee was assigned to the Third Ferrying Group, an assignment critical to the war effort. They delivered aircraft from the manufacturer to where they would be shipped to the European and Pacific fronts. She quickly emerged as a leader with her attitude, “I’ll take and deliver anything.” Fellow WASP pilot Sylvia Dahmes Clayton recalled: “Hazel provided me with an opportunity to learn about a different culture at a time when I didn’t know anything else. She expanded my world and my outlook on life.” In 2004, Lee was inducted into Oregon’s Aviation Hall of Honor, a fraternity of native Oregonians who made historic contributions to aviation. She left behind a legacy of inclusion, bravery and service.

Hazel Ying Lee, 1932. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force.
STS-93 Commander, Eileen M. Collins shown wearing an orange Launch and Entry Suit (LES) with helmet. Collins was the first woman to command a Space Shuttle mission. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Colonel Eileen Collins

U.S. Air Force Colonel Eileen Collins’ love for airplanes and flying began as a child. At age 19, she saved money earned from part-time jobs and began taking flying lessons. After completing her undergraduate degree, she was one of four women chosen for Undergraduate Pilot Training at Vance Air Force Base and became the second female pilot to attend the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School. As a NASA Astronaut, she then led the way as the first female commander of a U.S. spacecraft with shuttle mission STS-93.

Lieutenant Colonel Olga Custodio

Olga Custodio wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps in the military but knew the challenges she faced as a woman. She persevered and wouldn’t take no for an answer even after being turned down by two different military branches. In 1980, she entered the Flight Screening Pilot Officer Training School and went on to graduate from Undergraduate Pilot Training at Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio, Texas. Lieutenant Colonel Custodio became the first Latina to complete U.S. Air Force pilot training and the first to become a U.S. military pilot. Upon retiring from the military after 23 years, she became one of the first Latina commercial airline captains.

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Olga Custodio, the first Latina U.S. Air Force pilot, is pictured as a first lieutenant while in flight training. Credit: United States Air Force 
Rosemary Mariner in the 1990s. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy.

Captain Rosemary Mariner

While growing up, Captain Rosemary Mariner enjoyed watching planes at Miramar Naval Station, and worked odd jobs, cleaned houses and washed aircraft to earn money for flying lessons and flight time. She graduated from Purdue University at 19 as the first woman to earn a degree in aeronautics. She was already a licensed pilot when she joined the Navy in 1973. She was selected as part of the first class of women for flight training and was one of six female aviators to earn wings in 1974. She also became one of the first female Navy jet pilots, flying the A-4C and the A-7E Corsair II. In 1982, she qualified as a surface warfare officer aboard the USS Lexington and became the first woman to command an operational naval aviation squadron when she led the VAQ-34 during Operation Desert Storm. She retired after 24 years of military service, 17 carrier landings with over 3,500 military flight hours in 15 different Navy aircraft.

Captain Vernice Armour

Before Captain Vernice Armour joined the U.S. Marine Corps, she became the first African American female to serve as a police officer in Tempe, Arizona. Earning her wings in July 2001, Armour was not only number one in her class of 12, but she was also number one among the last 200 graduates. She became the Marine Corps’ first African American female pilot. In March 2003, she flew with HMLA-169 during the invasion of Iraq becoming the Marines first black female combat pilot. She completed two combat tours in the Gulf.

Cropped image of United States Marine Corps officer Vernice Armour – first female African-American naval aviator and combat pilot in the United States military. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Defense.

“Never interrupt someone doing something, you said couldn’t be done.” -Amelia Earhart These pilots are shining examples of what women can achieve as members of the armed forces. They took on challenges with fortitude and never gave up. Join us in celebrating their accomplishments this Women’s History Month.

Blazing a Trail: Servicewomen Firsts

Since the Revolutionary War, women have been serving in the United States military. These women refused to accept the status quo and found ways to serve as nurses, cooks and seamstresses, and at times, disguised themselves as men to fight for their country. We explore the stories of courageous women throughout the decades who took the path less traveled and ultimately, paved the way for future generations.

Susie King Taylor, known as the first African American Army nurse. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Susie King Taylor

Susie King Taylor was the first Black U.S. Army nurse and tended to an all-Black Army regiment named the 1st South Carolina Volunteers (Union), where her husband served, for four years during the Civil War. Despite her service, like many African American nurses, she was never paid for her work. As the author of “Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33rd United States Colored Troops, Late 1st S.C. Volunteers,” she was the only African American woman to publish a memoir of her wartime experiences.

Dr. Mary Edwards Walker

Dr. Mary Edwards Walker was a suffragist, prisoner of war and surgeon. Walker chose to volunteer at the beginning of the Civil War but was only given the opportunity to be an unpaid field surgeon near the Union front lines. She petitioned the War Department multiple times and was eventually employed by the Army of the Cumberland as the first female surgeon of the U.S. Army Surgeons. After the war, she was approved for the Medal of Honor, for her efforts to treat the wounded during the Civil War. She is the only woman who has received the Medal of Honor.

Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, wearing her Medal of Honor. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.
Private Cathay Williams. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army.

Private Cathay Williams

In 1866, six all-Black cavalry and infantry regiments were created after Congress passed the Army Organization Act. Private Cathay Williams was the first African American woman to enlist, and the only documented to serve in the U.S. Army, posing as a man, during the Indian Wars. She enlisted under the pseudonym, William Cathay, and was the only known female Buffalo Soldier.

World War I marked the first war in which American women were allowed to enlist in the armed forces. The first to sign-up were Opha May Johnson, the first woman ever sworn into the U.S. Marine Corps; Loretta Perfectus Walsh, the first active-duty U.S. Navy woman and the first woman to serve in any of the U.S. armed forces in a non-nurse occupation; and twin-sisters Genevieve and Lucille Baker, the first two uniformed women to serve in the Coast Guard.

World War II created an unprecedented need for soldiers. Women raised their right hand to support their country and free up men to fight on the front lines. In 1943, Private Minnie Spotted Wolf, a member of the Blackfoot tribe, was one of the first Native American women to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps. Olivia Hooker was the first African American woman to enter the U.S. Coast Guard in February 1945. She became a SPAR (Semper Paratus Always Ready), a member of the United States Coast Guard Women’s Reserve, earning the rank of yeoman, second class during her service. Second Lieutenant Elsie Ott, U.S. Army Nurse Corps, was the first woman to receive the United States Air Medal. She was awarded this medal in recognition of her heroism in determining a way to evacuate the wounded from the front lines. She helped pave the way for further innovation in aeromedical during World War II and beyond.

Brigadier General Margaret A. Brewer

In 1948, three years after the end of World War II, President Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act into law, officially allowing women to serve as full, permanent members of all branches of the Armed Forces. As opportunities opened, women wanted to establish themselves as capable service members. This was especially true for Brigadier General Margaret A. Brewer, U.S. Marine Corps. She actively fought to preserve women’s presence in the Corps and better integrate them with their male counterparts. She also played a crucial role as the Corps began to develop regulations for pregnancy and parenthood. These principles are still in place for female Marines today. In 1978, she became the first female to reach the rank of general officer.

Brigadier General Margaret A. Brewer, USMC. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps.

As the 21st century ushered in, women proved their worth in the field as well as after service, becoming power advocates for Veterans. Sergeant First Class Leigh Ann Hester was the first female U.S. Army soldier to receive the Silver Star since World War II, and first ever to be cited for valor in close quarters combat. While in Iraq in November of 2004, Lieutenant Colonel Tammy Duckworth’s helicopter was shot down resulting in the loss of both her legs. She was the first American double amputee from the Iraq War. After retiring from the Army, she went to work for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and then became the first female Veteran to serve in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate.

Today, out of the more than one million active-duty service members, 17 percent are female. Women’s History Month provides an opportunity for all of us to honor and celebrate the vital role of women in American history and part of our military force. Join us as we highlight the incredible and courageous stories of women who have served our nation.

NVMM Reads: “Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History”

We all know the famous story of Amelia Earhart, the daring woman who flew a multitude of impressive flights and advanced the scope of possibility for female aviators. Her accomplishments are known throughout America, and her story is an inspiring tale for aviators everywhere. While she may be one of the most famous names in early aviation, she is by no means the only woman who battled the gales of opposition surrounding female pilots. To explore the stories of a few of these remarkable women, the NVMM Guest Experience Team strongly recommends adding to your reading list, “Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History,” by Keith O’Brien.

Throughout this chronology, Florence Klingensmith, Ruth Elder, Amelia Earhart, Ruth Nichols and Louise Thaden share the successes and setbacks in their careers, elements of their lives outside of aviation and fragments of their thoughts and opinions on their view of a woman’s “place” in society. O’Brien makes it clear in each chapter that despite their differing backgrounds, each woman shared a common moral ground, setting them up to become fast friends and to become a stable support system throughout their careers.

While the accomplishments of these women were vast, they also took on a dangerous endeavor each time they took to the skies. More often than not, machinery or simple human error was eventually the downfall of prominent aviators, and these women were no different. In addition to enduring an already harrowing task, women in aviation withstood the mounting pressure from their families, the media, and societal expectations for women’s behavior in the early 20th century. Despite these obstacles, the five women outlined in “Fly Girls” continued to defy all odds and accomplish a myriad of impressive “firsts” for women, in addition to aviation as a whole.

At the National Veterans Memorial and Museum, we celebrate those who made a difference in the world, and we respectfully honor their contributions to America. These women accomplished the impossible, and channeled their drive and intelligence in order to break down the barriers of impossibility, pushing themselves and others to aim higher than anyone could have expected. Despite their differences in background and personal lives, each of these five women shared a drive to succeed and found themselves in the pursuit of aviation.

Pioneering Women: Lieutenant Colonel Charity Adams Earley, U.S. Army

During World War II, military units were still segregated. Despite those challenges, many African American women wanted to enlist in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) to serve their country overseas. Due to pressure from several African American organizations, the War Department agreed to send a battalion of African American WACs overseas to sort and distribute the backlog of mail in Europe. This unit was known as the 6888th Postal Battalion which was given the nickname of “Six Triple Eight.”

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army

Lieutenant Colonel Charity Adams Earley

Leading the brave women of the 6888th was Major Charity Adams. She joined the newly formed Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC) – later changed to the WAC – and completed her training in August of 1942. Adams was later promoted to the rank of major and placed in charge of the first WAC African American unit to serve overseas. The women of the 6888th had their work cut out for them; but Maj. Adams worked hard to keep her unit motivated and organized.

The 6888th Postal Battalion consisted of approximately 850 WACs divided into Companies A, B, C and D. When the 6888th arrived in Birmingham, England, they found piles of undelivered letters and care packages for soldiers who were risking their lives on the frontlines. Many of the packages were poorly labeled and had been pilfered by rats. Knowing that the lack of mail from home was lowering the morale of American soldiers, the WACs set to work sorting and delivering the mail to the intended recipients. They split into three groups that rotated in eight-hour shifts, seven days a week in an unheated warehouse. Despite the freezing conditions, the 6888th was able to sort and distribute all the packages in only three months, a task that had been predicted to take at least six. They lived up to their motto of, “No Mail, Low Morale.”

Members of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion take part in a parade ceremony in honor of Joan d’Arc at the marketplace where she was burned at the stake. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

For her service during World War II, Adams was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel, the highest possible rank a woman could obtain within WAC. Upon her return home, she completed her master’s degree in psychology from The Ohio State University and worked for the Veterans Administration in Cleveland, Ohio. She then turned to academic administration before she married in 1949. Most of her post-war life was devoted to community service in Ohio. She served on multiple boards including the Dayton, Ohio, American Red Cross chapter. She also founded the Black Leadership Development Program and helped create Parity, Inc.

Upon their return home, the women of 6888 did not receive any public recognition, yet their diligence and service to American soldiers and citizens paved the way for women of all races to continue to serve their country today.

Women of the Veterans Portrait Project

“From the first settlers who came to our shores and the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this nation. Too often, women were unsung and their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.” -President Jimmy Carter

During Women’s History Month, we celebrate the servicewomen of Stacy Pearsall’s Veterans Portrait Project hanging from the ceiling in our Great Hall. These photos follow the unique journeys of 22 Veterans from military service back to civilian life. Last month, we shared Celebrating Black History with the Veterans Portrait Project featuring the stories of U.S. Army Veterans: Elizabeth Barker Johnson, Desiree Emillio-Duverge and Patrice Chandler. This month, we add to those stories with five more servicewomen: U.S. Marine Corps Veterans Marilyn Cogswell and Ali Fasano, U.S. Air Force Veterans Laura Buys and Shannon Duffy, and U.S. Navy Veteran Kathleen Purdy Owens.

Marilyn Cogswell

Detroit, Michigan, native Marilyn “Mickey” Newhouse Cogswell, enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1951 at the age of 18.  She trained at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island where, unlike male recruits, all female Marines, known as Lady Leathernecks, were issued sewing patterns and required to sew their own uniforms. Mickey took the task in stride and later became an artist for the Marine Corps. While stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, she met and married fellow Marine, John MacDougall, Jr.  She separated from service in December 1952, to care for her growing family of six children. Mickey passed away on October 18, 2017, just one year after her Veterans Portrait Project photo was taken. For more of her story, read Veterans Portrait Project: Marilyn Cogswell.

Photo (right) is courtesy of Stacy Pearsall
Photo (right) is courtesy of Stacy Pearsall

Ali Fasano

Ali Fasano enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1999, and was trained as a motor transport diesel mechanic. Athletic and talented, she served on the Marine Corps boxing team from 2001 to 2003. As an air defense control officer, she was stationed at Camp Hansen in Okinawa and at Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in North Carolina. She deployed to Iraq from May 2007 to January 2008, and again from January to July 2009.  Ali left the service as a first lieutenant in 2009. She now works as a licensed massage therapist in Liverpool, New York, where she lives with her Pitbull, Dallas.

Laura Buys

Meet Laura Buys. She enlisted in the Air Force in 2012, and worked as an operations intelligence analyst. She deployed to Qatar in 2014, and to Alaska and Japan in 2015. During her career, she delivered over 600 intelligence briefings to leaders around the world, supported 160 central command combat missions and was awarded a medal for Meritorious Service Achievement. She left the service in 2017, to pursue a degree in women and gender studies at Syracuse University, where she plans to serve her community by working at a local homeless shelter, with at risk youth and individuals with developmental disabilities.

Photo (right) is courtesy of Stacy Pearsall
Photo (right) is courtesy of Stacy Pearsall

Shannon Duffy

When Shannon Duffy was 18, her brother, Army Sergeant Shane Duffy, was killed in action while serving his second combat tour in Iraq. Three years later, Shannon joined the Air Force Reserve Medical Corps so she could care for wounded service members and help return them safely to their families. After receiving medical education and training at Joint Base San Antonio, Shannon pursued a medical administration degree in Rhode Island and served temporary duty assignments across the U.S. Shannon attended the Noncommissioned Officers Academy at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana in 2006   before separating from service to begin a career in the Veterans Affairs healthcare system.

Kathleen Purdy Owens

Kathleen Purdy Owens started her military career in the ROTC at The Ohio State University, earning a degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering. She attended Navy Flight School, received her wings in 1986, and went on to fly transport missions in support of U.S. aircraft carriers throughout North America, Europe and the Caribbean. In 1991, she flew the final carrier arrested landing aboard the USS Lexington. Kathleen left duty in 1993 and joined the Naval Reserves. She began flying for United Airlines in 1995, and she has accomplished over 10,000 career carrier military and commercial flight hours. In 2006, she formed a development group in Virginia Beach, Virginia, where she lives with her family.

Photo (right) is courtesy of Stacy Pearsall

Women’s History Month provides an opportunity for all of us to honor and celebrate the vital role of women in American history. Join us each week as we highlight the incredible and courageous stories of women who have served our nation.

Women in Vietnam: The Story of Lynda Van Devanter

For those who serve in war, the emotional, physical, and mental struggles faced do not simply end once they return home. Many struggle to transition from soldier on the battlefield to life back home in the states. Our Museum Educator, Samantha Brooks, shares the story of Lynda Van Devanter, a nurse who served during the Vietnam War. Lynda suffered from depression after she returned home and fought to overcome her feelings of hopelessness and build a community for other women Veterans.

Lynda Van Devanter was born on May 27, 1947 to a close-knit Catholic family in Washington D.C. In 1965, Lynda enrolled at the Mercy Hospital School of Nursing in Baltimore where she trained to become a nurse. In 1968, she went to a U.S. Army recruiter lecture which asked nursing students to consider joining the army to serve in Vietnam. It was at this moment that Lynda decided she needed to head to Vietnam to serve as a nurse. Following six weeks of basic training at an Army base in Texas, Lynda was assigned to serve as a nurse with the 71st Evacuation Hospital in Pleiku province, Vietnam. She worked long, grueling, twelve-hour shifts in a poorly equipped and tightly packed hospital. Each day, she treated soldiers with horrifying wounds while listening to the sounds of explosions and sniper fire. The experience took such a toll on Lynda that she began to lose faith in the U.S. forces’ reason for being in Vietnam.

71st Evacuation Hospital in Pleiku province. Photo courtesy of U.S. Army

After a year of service, Lynda returned to an America embroiled in antiwar demonstrations and she experienced hostility from her fellow Americans. However, the worst part of her homecoming was the fact that many people were unaware that women even served in the Vietnam War. At that time, the U.S. government did not provide support programs for women Veterans. As a result, Lynda felt isolated and angry. Without a support system, she became depressed and suffered from nightmares and flashbacks. However, help eventually came from Boddy Muller, the founder of the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA). The VVA was created to help Vietnam War Veterans, such as Lynda, deal with both emotional and physical trauma sustained while serving in the war. Thanks to the support she received from her fellow Veterans in the VVA, Lynda realized she was not alone and that she should be proud of her service. Their support encouraged her to return to college where she received a bachelor’s degree in psychology so that she could help other servicewomen who felt alone and hopeless.

In 1980, Lynda founded the Vietnam Veterans of America Women’s Project to bring recognition to female nurses and other women Veterans and provide them the necessary support. She used her degree in psychology to help counsel women Veterans who were struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Lynda also wrote a book entitled Home before Morning: The Story of an Army Nurse in Vietnam in which she shared her experiences during and after serving in the Vietnam War. The book both raised awareness and support for women Veterans and helped her come to terms with her own experiences. Lynda continued to be a voice for those struggling with PTSD until her death on November 15, 2002 at the age of 55.

To learn more about what we are doing to honor women Veterans, visit Women’s History Month!


Kaufman, M. T. (2002, November 23). Lynda Van Devanter, Nurse Who Became Chronicler of Her Wartime Pain, Dies at 55. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2002/11/23/us/lynda-van-devanter-nurse-who-became-chronicler-of-her-wartime-pain-dies-at-55.html

Lynda Van Devanter. (2021, February 20). Encyclopedia.Com. https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/lynda-van-devanter

Veteran Artist Spotlight: Meet Kristin Cronic

At the National Veterans Memorial and Museum, we are motivated and inspired by remarkable stories about women in military service – their dedication, perseverance, and countless contributions throughout history charge us with excitement as we share their narratives with you.

In celebration of Women’s History Month, we had the incredible opportunity to connect with Navy Veteran and artist, Kristin Cronic. Kristin’s time at the U.S. Naval Academy has inspired her to create a body of work which pays tribute to the longstanding traditions of life for students and young sailors at the renowned Annapolis institution.

What we find so intriguing about Kristin is the stark contrast between her life as a Midshipman and her life as an accomplished painter.  How does one go from serving on the USS Winston S. Churchill – a 9,000-ton destroyer – to becoming an artist, we wondered? For Kristin, the answer was simple; from a young age, she was meant to be both.  “I have always been an artist, and I spent my childhood making something any moment I could. It is simply where my heart is happiest, and I have returned to it through every season of my life,” she told us. “I also felt a call to serve and enjoyed the analytical side as well. Certainly, I pined for art class, but math and science were fascinating to me, too.”

Growing up, Kristin shared that several people in her life served as role models and helped pave the way for her to follow her passions. This included her aunt – a professional artist; her mother – a successful businesswoman; and her high school art teacher – a US Marine Corps Veteran who served in Vietnam. Recalling the moment she learned her teacher had served, Kristin explained, “…it occurred to me for the first time that military service and art did not have to be mutually exclusive. His story encouraged me as I began to pursue my own path.” 

The Dark Ages, 2020
The Dark Ages, 2020, Oil on canvas

“The biggest reason I wanted to serve was as a response to the September 11 attacks. I was in 7th grade and I remember feeling so helpless and frustrated that I could not do anything about it. My dad happened to be on a business trip to Spain, slated to come home the 12th. He eventually did, but at the time, we did not know if we would ever see him again.” For Kristin, this was not a moment easily forgotten, and became the driving force in her decision to serve.

Accepted, 2020
Accepted, 2020, Oil on canvas

Following a visit to the U.S. Naval Academy during her high school years, Kristin described feeling a deep sense of belonging and knew this is where she was meant to be. After receiving her acceptance letter, she understood she could not turn down the opportunity. “I knew my life would eventually bring me back to art, but I also knew I had this ‘now or never’ dream,” she explained. “I had a plan to drive ships, become an engineer, go to dive school and grad school, and be a salvage diver for the Navy. I did hope to one day meet someone and start a family, and that journey happened to start the very same day my military service began.”  As fate would have it, the artist indeed had met her husband, Caleb, at the Naval Academy on day one. They were assigned to the same company and the same squad, and also stood next to each other in height order. Their parents even happened to sit next to each other at their swearing in ceremony. 14 years and two children later, the rest is history – and the best is still yet to come!

Celebrate, 2020
Celebrate, 2020, Oil on canvas
Cover Toss, 2020
Cover Toss, 2020, Oil on canvas

In June of 2007, Kristin Cronic entered the U.S. Naval Academy as a young and fresh-faced “Plebe” and graduated in 2011 as an Ensign about to embark on her naval career. Between 2011 and 2017, Kristin served on the USS Winston S. Churchill and the USNS Comfort, deploying to the Persian Gulf and Central and South America, respectively.  Though she loved her job, engineering, and the Navy, being far from home weighed heavy on her heart. Despite the challenges, Kristin felt the Naval Academy prepared her for these moments and she persevered through this difficult time. It wasn’t until she had her first child that she realized she could no longer deploy and leave her budding new family. Her path led her home, and eventually back to her other love – making art.

Officers, 2020
Officers, 2020, Oil on canvas

Upon taking a first look at Kristin’s work, we noticed the artist and former Midshipman’s paintings are gestural in nature. Her use of both expressive color and subtle hues help to convey the stories of her subjects and scenes — adding both energetic and emotive qualities to the work’s nostalgic and timeless feel. When asked why she chooses to paint the USNA, the artist offered two distinct reasons.

“First, it’s a fascinating ‘coming of age’ experience. Typically, starting USNA is a crop of fresh high school graduates. Four years go by, and those same ‘kids’ are suddenly driving ships, handling weapons, holding responsibility well beyond their years. What happens in that process? How did we get from A to B?” Kristin described herself as being captivated by the agelessness of the USNA experience, explaining that, “decades of graduates can see an experience and immediately relate to it. It breeds a common understanding, and yet, thousands of individual perspectives. I find that intersection endlessly fascinating.” 

We Got Him (May 1, 2011), 2019
We Got Him (May 1, 2011), 2019, Oil on canvas
Old Friend, 2020
Old Friend, 2020, Oil on canvas

Kristin’s desire to share the USNA experience is intertwined with her hopes to inspire future Midshipmen, and to help former graduates remember their own story. “And perhaps most importantly,” she emphasizes, “I hope it invites the public to relate to the experience in their own way, while still preserving some of the sacred parts of the process.” For Kristin, civilians too can see themselves woven into the fabric of the stories she shares. The scenes she has chosen to paint allow all viewers to connect with these encapsulated moments and reflect on times they have lived through something similar.

Self Portrait
Identity, Self Portrait on Commissioning Day, 2020, Oil on canvas

To our service men and women, Kristin shared some heartfelt last thoughts, “Your service matters, your story matters. Each and every service member is valuable and appreciated. Regardless of rank achieved, time spent serving, gender, race, sexuality, or religion — I am grateful for you and honor your service.”

Kristin Cronic lives with her husband, Caleb, and two children in Jacksonville, Florida. For more information about the artist, please head to her website easelonstribling.com. Kristin’s portraits will be on view at the U.S. Naval Academy later this year through December 2022. We invite you to join us in following this Midshipman, artist, wife, and mother on her next great journey!

Veterans Portrait Project: Marilyn Cogswell

When Marilyn Cogswell enlisted into the Marines in 1951, she was entering during a point of massive transition within the military for women. Following World War II, the United States military rapidly scaled down from 12 million troops in 1945 to 1.5 million by 1948 and the women’s programs were no exceptions. Only a handful of women were allowed to remain in, mostly as advisors and advocates which would prove useful in pushing through the Women’s Armed Forces Integration Act, signed by President Truman in 1948. While a major revolution that allowed women to serve on active duty alongside men, it was still very limiting in several ways.

For instance, only two percent of the total force could be women on active duty, though the reserve components had no cap. The Marines, specifically, only allowed for 100 officers, 10 warrant officers, and 1,000 enlisted women by June 1950, just before the outbreak of the Korean War. Additionally, while entitle to the same pay, leave, allowances, and benefits as men, a married women’s husband or children was not considered a dependent unless she provided the chief support for income. The military overall had regulated women away from positions that they had previously held during war, mainly only allowing them into administrative duties. This shortsightedness was evident when the Korean War started. Women were still barred from combat roles or vessels and aircraft that might see combat, and still seen as a way to free up men to fight overseas. But, in only allowing them into administrative duties, it took time to rebuild those schools and integrate them to their new billets. During this, combat divisions were sorely lacking in fighting strength overall. 1951 would see massive expansions to this, as mobilization issues became evident, but women were still restricted to serving stateside.

This is the United States Marine Corps that Marilyn entered. Upon graduating her basic training at Parris Island, she would be stationed at Camp Lejeune and selected to be an artist. Shortly after her assignment, she would marry a fellow marine, John MacDougall, Jr, and begin a family with him, having twins. The policy on these types of matters has been outline some above, but a women could ask for administrative discharge based solely on marriage as long as they had completed a year of service if enlisted, reflecting the society’s general negative attitude against married women who worked. When factoring motherhood, a 1943 study group set policy on the matter that would last until 1970. It stated that:

It is believed that pregnancy and motherhood Oso facto interfere with military duties. . . , Granting of maternity leave would result in having ineffectives (sic); replacement could not be procured while the woman remained on the active list; and the mother of a small child would not be readily available for reassignment. Necessary rotation of duty assignments would require the family unit to be broken up for considerable periods of time, or at least until the husband made the necessary provisions to establish the home at the mother’s new duty station . . It is believed that a woman who is pregnant or a mother should not be a member of the armed forces and should devote herself to the responsibilities which she had assumed, remaining with her husband and child as a family unit.

Without Marilyn’s discharge papers, it can only be assumed that she either asked for separation, as she had done a year of service, or was discharged for having children. She and her husband would have six children all together, though tragically four of them would pass before adulthood. Still, Marilyn’s resolve in life carried her through those impossible times. She is pictured in our Veterans Portrait Project Gallery, which was taken by Stacey Pearsall. Her photo includes both a picture of her while she served and one of Marilyn in 2017, her a year before Marilyn herself passed away.


“History of the Women Marines.” Women Marines Association. Accessed from https://www.womenmarines.org/wm-history.

“History.” Women in the Army. Accessed from https://www.army.mil/women/history/ 

Stremlow, Mary V. A History of the Women Marines, 1946-1977. U.S. Marine Corps, Washington, D.C. 1986. Accessed from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED280948.

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Women in the Military

Women’s Equality Day

Celebrating Women’s History Month

World War II Pioneer: Dorothy Baroch

World War II Pioneer: Lieutenant Colonel Harriet West Waddy, U.S. Army

World War II Pioneer: Lieutenant Colonel Harriet West Waddy, U.S. Army

Since the founding of the United States of America, women have served beside men both on and off the battlefield. The stories of many of these women remain mostly unknown, especially the stories of African American woman. Today, we are going to share the story Lieutenant Colonel Harriet West Waddy, a Veteran from World War II who served her country despite the blatant inequality that came with being both female and African American.

Lt. Colonel Harriet West Waddy, born in 1904, was reared by her maternal grandmother after her mother passed away. While not much is known about her life growing up, it is known that she graduated from Kansas State College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences. During the Great Depression, Waddy worked as the aide to Mary McLeod Bethune, the director of the National Youth Administration’s Division of Negro Affairs. However, when the United States entered World War II, Waddy decided to join the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps – later renamed the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) – to serve her country and represent her fellow African Americans.

During World War II, approximately 6,500 African American women signed on with the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAC). Despite their willingness to serve, many were relegated to positions as glorified housekeepers. Waddy pushed forward and completed her Women’s Army Corps (WAC) training. Following graduation from The Adjutant General’s School of the Army, Waddy was placed in charge of 50 civilian typists. It was their responsibility to notify the families of soldiers who were killed, wounded, or missing in action. Waddy was promoted to the rank of Major in the WAC and was one of only two African American women to attain the rank of Major during the war. Her title was changed to Lt. Colonel once WAC became a part of the Army.

Waddy saw her role in WAC as an opportunity to take an active role in changing the status of African American women in the military and was appointed an advisor to the Army on racial issues. While many African Americans criticized her for remaining in the military, Waddy saw herself as fighting to help realize the ideal future. While visiting the WACs at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, Waddy took steps to try to eliminate references to white and colored from official memorandums on information boards. Her goal as an advisor was always to allow her fellow African American women an opportunity to show their abilities.

After her retirement in 1952, Waddy worked for the Federal Aviation Administration. During her lifetime, she married four times, but never had any children. Waddy enjoyed traveling and the freedom to move as she pleased. In 1999, at the age of 94, Harriet West Waddy died at a friend’s home in Las Vegas, Nevada.

To learn more about Veterans’ stories and more of what we are doing at the National Veterans Memorial and Museum to honor Women’s History month, visit nationalvmm.org. Thanks for reading and come back next week to read another blog as part of our Women’s History Month series.

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Women in the Military

Women’s Equality Day

Celebrating Women’s History Month

World War II Pioneer: Dorothy Baroch

Veterans Portrait Project: Marilyn Cogswell

World War II Pioneer: Dorothy Baroch

Dorothy J. Baroch joined the Women’s Naval Reserves, also known as the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, or WAVES, on August 5, 1943. The WAVES program was established by President Franklin Roosevelt in July 1942 as a way to “expedite the war effort by releasing officers and men for duty at sea.” WAVES members were to replace men on the Homefront who had shore duty, freeing them up to serve on combat ships at sea or the frontlines, as the law expressly forbid a woman’s assignment to a Navy ship or combat aircraft. There were both commissioned and enlisted WAVES, and since Petty Officer Baroch enlisted, we will look at those requirements.

WAVES were enlisting for the duration of the war and would be discharged within 6 months of its conclusion. Either be a natural born or naturalized citizen between the ages of 20 and 35, though interestingly if you were 21 or younger, written permission from a guardian was required. When it came to marriage their husband could not be in the Navy, if they married someone in the Navy during their enlistment they would be discharged, and they could not have children under the age of 18. Finally, they must have completed high school and pass a standard physical.

Baroch’s would have conducted her 5-week basic training at U.S. Naval Training Center WR (Women’s Reserve) in Bronx, New York. Originally Hunter College, it was acquired in December 1942 and would quickly become the only location training the Navy’s enlisted women. This was not the first location selected by the Navy however, as campuses at Oklahoma A&M College, Indiana University, and University of Wisconsin were the first to train WAVES. But after the initial groups began training it was clear the facilities were inadequate. Over 80,000 of the 100,000 WAVES would be trained in New York throughout the war.

After basic training Baroch would have attended A School, where she would learn her trade as an Aerographer’s Mate. Aerographer’s Mates were tasked with researching and forecasting the weather for aviation and ship safety, which did have an impact on how the Navy decided to conduct certain missions. This school was relocated to Lakewood, New Jersey in a former Catholic prep school the Navy had acquired. The ten-week course taught them how to forecast and use equipment such as the Pilot-Balloon and theodolite she is pictured with.

Upon completion of her A School, Baroch was most likely assigned to Naval Air Station Moffett Field, California where she would carry out her duties for the war. The only known picture of her during this time is this one, which was taken some time in 1944 or 1945 at Moffett Field. WAVES would meet resistance wile integrating into their positions. They faced sexism and discrimination in their roles from harassment to outright hostility from some of their male counterparts, even though all women in were volunteers.

Upon the conclusion of the war, demobilization centers would be set up for the WAVES, and by September 1946, only a handful of women would remain in the military. Through their advocation and service, along with other women’s programs during the war, President Truman would sign the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act on July 30, 1948. This law allowed for women to join the military on a permanent basis, which is to say active duty, though the Navy would still prevent them from serving on aircraft or vessels that would be assigned to combat. This would be the norm until 1994, where experience from the Persian Gulf War showed a rethink of this was necessary, and women could be assigned onto combat vessels.


“Aerographer’s Mate Careers.” U.S. Navy. Accessed from https://www.navy.com/careers/aerographers-mate.

Author Unknown. 80-G-K-2929 Naval Air Station, Moffett Field, California. Photograph, circa 1944-1945. Accessed from https://www.history.navy.mil/our-collections/photography/us-people/b/baroch-dorothy-j/80-g-k-2929.html.

Bisno, Adam. “Twenty-five Years of Women Aboard Combatant Vessels.” Naval History and Heritage Command. March 2019. Accessed from https://www.history.navy.mil/content/history/nhhc/browse-by-topic/diversity/women-in-the-navy/women-in-combat.html.

Brenner, Martin. “Pilot Balloon Resources.” California State University. Accessed from https://web.csulb.edu/~mbrenner/mypibal.htm.

Chen, C. Peter. “WAVES: Women in the WW2 US Navy.” World War II Database. August 2007. Accessed from https://ww2db.com/other.php?other_id=24.

Cruse, Don. “History of the Aerographer Rating.” Naval Weather Service Association. Accessed from https://www.navalweather.org/aghistory.html.

Enlistment Documents of Dorothy Janet Baroch. The National Archives. Accessed 25 February 2021. Accessed from https://catalog.archives.gov/id/3975106.

Heidenrich, Christine. “Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service: The WAVES Program in World War II.” Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. 14 September 2020. Accessed from https://airandspace.si.edu/stories/editorial/waves-program-color-world-war-2.

Lewis, J. M. “WAVES Forecaster in World War II (with a Brief Survey of Other Women Meteorologists in World War II).” Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. Vol 76, 11 (1 November 1995), 2187-2202.

“The WAVES of World War II.” National Women’s History Museum. Accessed from https://www.womenshistory.org/exhibits/waves-world-war-ii.

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Women in the Military

Women’s Equality Day

Celebrating Women’s History Month

World War II Pioneer: Lieutenant Colonel Harriet West Waddy, U.S. Army

Veterans Portrait Project: Marilyn Cogswell

Inspiring Sisters in Service Part 2: Rachel Neasham, U.S. Army

by Brianna Neasham

In this two-part story for Women’s History Month, sisters from California elected to write one another’s story of service. Read their thoughts and insights about how they have inspired one another and where their respective journeys have taken them.

My little sister, Rachel, graduated from West Point in 2009, receiving her first orders to Fort Lewis as a combat engineer with the 617th Engineer Company. Shortly after reporting, Rachel deployed to northern Iraq to meet up with her new platoon.

As a young female officer in charge of a horizonal construction platoon comprised solely of men, Rachel often found herself forced to confront unfounded notions about the capabilities and intentions of female service members. Rachel had to establish her legitimacy with the coalition partners; often her assigned liaisons with the Iraqi Security Forces would be hesitant to speak with her or deal with her directly due to her gender. Further complicating the matter, Rachel assumed command of her platoon after they had already been in theater for several months – a situation that denied her the opportunity to build the rapport and relationships that develop naturally with your troops during pre-deployment training.

Facing these challenges in addition to the normal stressors of deployment in a combat zone, Rachel chose to confront the situation in her characteristic manner – working even harder, focusing on her troops and driving forward. Rachel never made her service about “being a female service member.” Instead, she made it about complete commitment to the mission and excellence in everything she does. Never-the-less, Rachel’s attitude, leadership approach and devotion while in command of 2nd Platoon helped rewrite the script on female service in the U.S. Army. I am proud of my little sister and honored to have served in the world’s greatest military alongside such a patriot.

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Inspiring Sisters in Service Part 1

Inspiring Sisters in Service Part 1: Brianna Neasham, U.S. Coast Guard

by Rachel Neasham

In this two-part story for Women’s History Month, two sisters from California elected to write one another’s story of service. Read their thoughts and insights about how they have inspired one another and where their respective journeys have taken them.

I remember the day my sister, Brianna, left our small town in California to attend the United States Coast Guard Academy. Our family has a rich lineage of military service, but it was still shocking to me to see her leave. However, her four years at the Academy flew by, and before I knew it, she was back in California while stationed on the cutter USCGC MUNRO, homeported in Alameda, California. I followed along, in awe of my sister’s journey. She went north to provide safety and support for the Alaskan crab fishing season, circumnavigated the globe to assist with humanitarian operations off the coast of Thailand following the 2004 tsunami and answered the call as part of one of the first joint response missions for the Somali pirate hijacking of a Thai fishing vessel off the coast of Yemen.

From there, my sister went to law school at George Mason University, while working at Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C.  After finishing law school, Brianna transitioned to the Coast Guard Reserves and now serves as an ethics attorney with the Department of the Interior. My sister has seen and accomplished so much. I am proud of her accomplishments, but I deeply admire the way in which she has conducted herself and continually challenged preconceived notions of women and women in service. I know that Brianna is grateful for all the Coast Guard has given her, and she will always strive to pay it forward.

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Inspiring Sisters in Service Part 2

Celebrating Women’s History Month

Did you know women have served in every war and conflict in which the United States has been involved going back to the Revolutionary War? Maj. Jas Boothe is an outstanding example of how women often have had to overcome enormous obstacles, simply because of their gender, to work alongside men. Beyond her fight for gender recognition and equality, Boothe faced personal challenges that did not prevent her from gaining victory. Living in New Orleans, Louisiana, and raising her son as a single parent while in the Army Reserves, she learned that she would soon be deployed for Operation Iraq Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom. Her self-will, focus, and determination prepared her not only for her military service but for the most difficult of circumstances. In August 2005, New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. More than 1,800 people perished as a result of the storm, and thousands more were affected, including Maj. Boothe and her son. One month later, she received a diagnosis of cancer and would be unable to deploy. Facing two devastating situations did not deter her from the fight for her life.

Like any other brave servicemember, Boothe tightened up her boot laces and prepared for battle. Because of her health diagnosis she was discharged from the military and sought medical care. During this time, she was not only battling cancer, but she also had to fight for proper medical treatment, search for employment and housing for her son and herself. None of this was easy, but Maj. Boothe never wavered. Her story of service, her battle with cancer and her spirit of determination is one that inspires many who face difficulties in life. She never gave in, and she never quit.

One year later in 2006, Maj. Boothe returned to full-time duty and became an advocate for programs that assist women Veterans and children. While she thought she would fight for our country in Iraq, she soon realized that her fight would be at home for women who take the oath to serve in our armed forces.

Today, Maj. Jas Boothe is an author, entrepreneur, disabled, 16-year Army Veteran, a cancer survivor, innovator, philanthropist and speaker. Her story of triumph and overcoming the most difficult challenges can inspire us all. Her selfless sacrifice is what makes many women Veterans true American heroes.

During the entire month of March, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum honors those women who looked beyond their roles as mother, daughter, wife, partner, and sister and took up the call to serve our nation — Women who took on challenges with fortitude and resilience and never gave up.          

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Women in the Military

Women’s Equality Day

World War II Pioneer: Dorothy Baroch

World War II Pioneer: Lieutenant Colonel Harriet West Waddy, U.S. Army

Veterans Portrait Project: Marilyn Cogswell

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