NEWS | March 4, 2021

Women’s History Month: Honoring past, present contributions

By Rachel Kersey 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Joint Base San Antonio will safely celebrate the contributions women have made to the military.

During March, Women’s History Month posters will be displayed throughout JBSA, said Maria Rodriguez, affirmative employment program manager at the 802nd Force Support Squadron, JBSA-Fort Sam Houston.

Esther McGowin Blake has the distinction of being the first woman to serve in the U.S. Air Force. She enlisted July 8, 1948, on the first minute of the first hour of the first day regular U.S. Air Force duty was authorized for women. It came on the heels of the passage of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, according to Tracy English, a JBSA-Lackland historian.

Thirty years later, in 1978, a school in Sonoma, California, hosted an event that set the stage for what is now a national celebration of Women’s History Month in March. The district decided to set up a week of special observances around International Women’s Day, including presentations, an essay contest, and a parade. The idea eventually spread to other schools, communities and organizations.

The poster for this year’s Women’s History Month commemorates the 75th anniversary of World War II. The Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute provided the imagery for the posters.

“World War II played a significant role in the type of work and the amount of work that women did,” said Michael Del Soldato, JBSA-Lackland historian.

Approximately 350,000 women served in the U.S. military during World War II. These women put their lives on the line, and some made the ultimate sacrifice.

“Women's Air Force Service Pilots, known as WASPs, ferried planes from factories to bases, transported cargo, and participated in simulation strafing and target missions, accumulating more than 60 million miles in flight distances and freeing thousands of male U.S. pilots for active duty in World War II,” Del Soldato said. “WASPs were the first women to fly American military aircraft and 38 of them lost their lives during the war doing that.”

The Army Nurse Corps lost 16 women to the war, and there were 68 female prisoners of war held in Japan after being captured in the Philippines. On the fourth day of the 1944 D-Day invasion, nurses stepped in to aid on the beaches.

“Approximately 1,600 nurses were decorated for either bravery under fire or meritorious service, with 565 members of the Women’s Army Corps receiving combat decorations for actions in the Pacific Theater of Operations,” Del Soldato said.

“Generations of women have courageously broken down barriers, shattered stereotypes, and changed our Air Force and our society,” said Brig. Gen. Caroline M. Miller, 502d Air Base Wing and JBSA commander. “We owe it to the women who came before us, and to the women who will come after us, to continue the work toward ensuring dignity, equality, and human rights for all.

“As a woman, it’s important to me to celebrate how far we’ve come; it’s also important to me to never lose sight of how much farther we can go. We are unstoppable when we empower one another,” Miller added.

Community members can view the commemorative Women’s History Month poster at the following locations:

  • JBSA-Fort Sam Houston: Keith A. Campbell Memorial Library, Kilmer Student Activity Center
  • JBSA-Randolph: Library, Kendrick Club
  • JBSA-Lackland: Gateway Club, Arnold Hall Community Center