WASHINGTON (Army News Service, March 14, 2012) -- Women veterans of what is often referred to as the "Forgotten War" were welcomed to the Women in Military Service to America Memorial, March 9, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Korean War.
When President Harry S. Truman ordered U.S. forces into Korea in 1950, the entire complement of women in the armed services numbered just 22,000, of which nearly 7,000 served in the health care professions. The remainder held line assignments throughout the service branches.
It was in the Korean War when Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals were first introduced. MASH units are credited with reducing deaths from battle wounds by 50 percent compared to World War II figures. Helicopters were also first introduced to evacuate wounded while also sustaining the force with troops and supplies.
Though nurses and medical specialists were the only women permitted into the combat theater during most of the war, women serving stateside were assigned to a variety of nontraditional jobs. They could serve as police, parachute riggers, pharmacists and engineers.
In keynote remarks to the audience of Korean War women veterans, Brig. Gen. Leslie A. Purser, who serves with the deputy chief of staff, G-2, said her current rank and position weren't simply a representation of hard work, but were directly related to the women veterans in the audience.
"This event serves as a long overdue opportunity to share my appreciation to those present who influence women service members in their personal and professional journeys," she said. "To all of you, on behalf of all women serving in our military, thank you for paving the way to allow us the honor of serving our country."
"As we look to the future, the coming years promise to be very exciting for women in the military as additional barriers are removed and women continue to assert themselves and are afforded opportunities and positions that are critical to our nation's defense," she said.
The main event followed with Army Nurse Corps Historian Lt. Col. Nancy Cantrell leading a panel discussion with five women Korean War veterans from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force who each described a particular memory from their war experience.
Cathy Drake joined the Army Women Nursing Corps in 1949. After basic training and commissioning, she went to work in 1950 as an operating room nurse with the 8055 MASH, which the television series was loosely based on. She met her husband who served as an 8055 anesthesiologist.
"The main thing about being in a combat zone was the living quarters," Drake recalled with an easy sense of humor. "We were all in tents. In wintertime when we bathed, we'd all just go into one big tent, soap up and hope the water would come on," she recalled. She added that sometimes there' would be one of the doctors or corpsmen in there by mistake who got the wrong time, "but we didn't pay attention to it."
Army vet Eleanor Porter joined the physical therapy program with the Women's Medical Specialist Corps in 1952. Stationed at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, she worked with burn patients, those with traumatic head injuries and amputees.
Porter met her husband while treating him. He lost both legs to wounds suffered in Korea.
"The reason he does so well now is because he had such a good physical therapist," Porter joked after 58 years of marriage. "If you see him you won't think he's a double amputee. He walks beautifully."
She and her husband have been active with the Amputee Coalition of America, helping to inspire servicemen and women to move forward with their wounds.
"We have visited with amputees twice a week for the last seven and a half years at Walter Reed before it was closed," she said. "When a young fella has just lost his legs and we'd walk into their room, we hope they'll think, well, if that old geezer can do it, so can I."
Daisy Losack, a Marine Corps sergeant and supply clerk during the Korean War, had seen a female Marine on a recruitment poster. That's all it took for her to follow in the footsteps of her father and four brothers by joining the military.
"I learned by women serving in the military, we relieved a serviceman to execute his job to protect our country," she said. "I am so proud to have been able to serve my country in this capacity and I am still trying daily to make the Marine Corps proud of me."
She met her husband at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Also a Marine, he had survived the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. Over the years the Losacks have spoken at schools across the country about their Korean War experiences.
Army Nurse Corp historian Lt. Col. Nancy Cantrell said the Korean War set the pace for trauma care today.
"With each war, we saw a little improvement and expansion in the role of women," Cantrell said. "Women had been mostly limited to personnel and medicine, but the Korean War was a wake-up call for women in that those roles were really beginning to expand in the civilian world. They really were the pioneers of trauma care and nursing."
Col. David J. Clark, executive director of the Department of Defense 60th Anniversary of the Korean War Commemoration Program, ended the ceremony noting that, "today the Republic of Korea serves as a force for good in northeast Asia, a bastion of democracy and a staunch ally of the U.S., with an economy that's an envy of the world."
"None of this would have been possible without your sacrifices and those of your fallen comrades, so on behalf of those in uniform serving today and an eternally grateful nation, thank you," he said. "We are standing on the shoulders of giants."
Warrior Transition Command recognizes women's education, empowerment
Army.mil: 60th Anniversary of the Korean War
Army.mil: Inside the Army News
STAND-TO!: Women's History Month
Army.mil: Women in the U.S. Army