WASHINGTON, D.C. -- On November 16, 1776, a private in the First Company of the Pennsylvania Artillery named John Corbin was mortally wounded during a battle at Fort Washington on Manhattan Island.
His wife, Margaret, or Molly for short, who refused to let her husband go to war alone, was by his side, and when he fell, she quickly took his place at the cannon, refusing to run away.
She was severely wounded by gunfire in her arm and chest, incapacitating her for the rest of her life. For her heroic actions, she became the first woman pensioner of the United States in 1779.
"To honor the memory of Margaret Cochran Corbin, the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution established an award to pay tribute to women in all branches of the military for their extrodinary service," said Merry Ann Wright, the president general of DAR, during her introductory remarks while presenting the award during the 120th Continental Congress National Defense Night at DAR Constitution Hall July 1.
This year's recipient was Chief Warrant Officer 5 Jeanne Pace, the rear detachment commander for the 1st Cavalry Division Band, who enlisted in the Women's Army Corps in 1972 as a clarinet player.
"It was unbelievable that this group of esteemed ladies chose me to receive this award," Pace, , a Tacoma, Wash. native who holds Killeen, Texas as home, said after the ceremony. "It was an honor to be among the other recipients of awards that evening. In many ways, my achievement seemed so insignificant to me in comparison to what they have contributed."
Previous recipients of the award include Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught, Maj. Gen. Jeanne Holm, Maj. Gen. Patricia Horoho, Maj. Gen. Gale Pollock, Maj. Ladda "Tammy" Duckworth, Capt. Nicole Smith, Chief Warrant Officer Lori Hill and Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester.
Pace holds the honor of being the longest continuously serving female in the Army, serving in her 39th year of active duty service, and is the last member of the WAC band still serving on active duty.
Pace received the congratulatory letter from the DAR in early March 2011 stating that she was this year's recipient.
"I was just overwhelmed with the thought that there's all kinds of people out there doing great things and I just feel like I come in and do my job every day," Pace said.
In her first 13 years of service, her assignments included Fort McClellan, Ala., Fort Amador, Panama Canal Zone, Fort Lewis, Wash., and the United States Army Element, School of Music in Norfolk, Va. At the school, she served as the noncommissioned officer in charge of Army Advanced Courses, teaching drum majoring, band operations and band administration, and also became the first course manager for the Army Band Advanced Noncommissioned Officer Course.
She went to Warrant Officer Candidate School as a sergeant first class in 1983 and washed out. She took a year and looked at the areas where she was lacking and tried to improve on them. In 1985, she graduated the school as the distinguished honor graduate, then came to 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas, to become the first female warrant officer bandmaster in the new "all-volunteer" Army.
"I tell people that my first attempt at warrant was not successful, and I'm okay with that," Pace said. "I think it's a message we need to get to soldiers, that if you have a goal, don't let failure the first time dissuade you from that goal."
Since then, Pace served once again in Panama, Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps at Fort Myer, Va., Fort Jackson, S.C., and returned to Fort Hood in 2009 to join the III Corps G-1 as the USF-I, J1 executive officer on their recent deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn from 2010 to 2011.
Her awards include two Legion of Merit ribbons, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, six Army Meritorious Service medals, Joint Service Commendation Medal, three Army Commendation Medals, Joint Service Achievement Medal, four Army Achievement Medals, four Army Good Conduct Medals, three National Defense Service Medals, Iraqi Campaign Medal with campaign star, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Military Outstanding Volunteer Medal, and a Superior Unit Award. She has also been awarded the Infantry Order of Saint Maurice, has received the Adjutant General's Corps Horatio Gates Gold Medal twice, and now the DAR Margaret Cochran Corbin Award.
"I credit my success in no small part to those like Margaret Cochran Corbin, who, whether intentionally or unintentionally, became trailblazers for generations of women who followed," Pace said. "Their determination and success opened doors and provided opportunities that I never imagined. I hope that I continue to live up to the expectations of those who honored me with this award."