Female veterans recall their service, from World War II to Afghanistan
During her first deployment as part of Operation Desert Storm in the Gulf War, Sarita Dyer climbed into her sleeping bag one night only to wake up to mayhem: people screaming, fighter jets overhead, her sergeant coming in, telling everyone to take cover.
They were under attack.
“I cried and I prayed, y’all. And I prayed and I cried and I cried, and prayed again,” Dyer said. “I began to think, ‘I’m going to die.’”
After a harrowing experience like that, it was fair to wonder why she continued her military service.
“Having earned my first combat badge, I began to feel a sense of pride and patriotism,” Dyer said. “As a young woman, I’ve always heard of the stories of combat that involved men. I wanted to be a part of the narrative change.”
Carol Bouchard, 96, said she was in college when she learned two of her childhood friends had died in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II.
“And it seemed like a poor time to be spending in college, when this was going on,” she said.
In March of 1945, only 20 years old, Bouchard enlisted in the Navy. During boot camp in New York City, she was part of the “Singing Waves Platoon,” which would perform in 15-minute radio segments. They performed for America, but sometimes more famous artists would perform for them. A highlight, she said, was a visit from the one and only Frank Sinatra.
Bouchard would later go through aerographer school, learning to forecast the weather. But, on the very day she arrived in Florida for reassignment, Japan surrendered, ending World War II.
Marilyn Simmerman recalled taking a train to New York City on St. Patrick’s Day 1952, then another to San Antonio, where she would begin her career in the Air Force in earnest.
Eventually, she was sent to Johnson Air Force base outside Tokyo, where she would serve in the telephone unit during the Korean War, working as at telephone operator and updating equipment.
There, Simmerman met and married her husband. Shortly thereafter, the Air Force decided to move the “WAFs” — members of the Women in the Air Force program — out of the Far East. Rather than be reassigned and separated from her new husband, she was discharged, ending her two years in the Air Force.
“But I tell you what, I enjoyed the service,” Simmerman said. “I don’t regret one minute.”
In 1963, only 17 years old, Mabel Kim enlisted in the Navy with her father’s permission.
“At that time, women had to be at least 21 years old to join without parental permission and have a high school education,” Kim explained.
“The ’60s was a changing and exciting time. We had a brand-new, charismatic president who challenged us by saying, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country,’” she recalled. “The draft was going on. The Civil Rights Movement was gaining momentum with Martin Luther King as a peaceful activist.”
The very day she arrived at bootcamp, that young, charismatic president, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated. Recruits were told they could get back on the bus and go home without repercussion.
She wound up serving out of the Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Virginia, where she took care of fellow corpsmen recovering from the wounds sustained in Vietnam.