By First Lt. Sharon A. Hyland, United States Marine Corps, Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, Public Affairs Officer
It was a letter dated August 8, 1918 which bore the subject: “Enrollment of women in the Marine Corps Reserve for clerical duty” that changed the course of history.
For women who sought to serve their country in the most honorable way, it was a call to arms and an opportunity to step away from the traditional life of their female counterparts.
Female Marines originally only performed clerical duties at Headquarters Marine Corps and various recruiting stations, but within 30 years women were actively serving stateside during World War II, in more than 200 previously male-dominated roles.
In the 1940s, the Women’s Marine Reserve held the distinct honor of being called Marines, even while their service sisters assumed monikers of “WAVES” and “WACs”. It was the 17th Commandant of the Marine Corps, Lieutenant General Thomas Holcomb, who asserted that women Marines are Marines and they will be called as such.
Nearly 100 years after the first women provided administrative support for the Marine Corps, female Marines can be found in nearly every military occupational specialty, leading female engagement teams and convoys through the valleys of Afghanistan.
Long are the days of “Free a Marine to Fight!”, and times when the worst run was found in her stockings, today, a young woman who joins the Marines endures the same recruit and officer training as her male counterpart, runs the same physical fitness and combat fitness tests, qualifies with the same weapons, carries the same fighting load, and leads the same Marines.
The distinction between what a male Marine and a female Marine does is nearly unrecognizable. A female Marine is no longer a secretary or telephone operator, she’s a pilot, a plane captain, a military police officer, a squadron sergeant major and a commanding general.
It took nearly a century to achieve these ranks and it was fought for by every woman who proudly earned her Eagle, Globe and Anchor, and our fellow Marines who treated us as equals.
Private Opha Mae Johnson may have been the first woman to make Marine Corps history in 1918, but I contend that every proud Marine who served since that day left her own mark in Marine Corps history.
What started as approximately 300 women volunteering during the World War I, is now a little more than 13,000 female Marines on active duty, still volunteering to protect their country, their families and the Marine to her left and her right.
For every service member who ever served, thank you for your service and sacrifice. For every young lady who walked into a recruiting station to raise her right hand, thank you, it’s because of your courage that we so proudly serve in your footsteps, and boldly make our own.