Written by: Aiya Madarang
March is Women’s History month, where we honor the oft-forgotten contributions and accomplishments of women throughout history. This includes brave American women in the military who have made great sacrifices, even in times when it was rare or unheard of for them to serve in the first place.
Throughout American military history, they’ve worked as nurses, pilots, soldiers, spies, and much, much more. In honor of Women’s History month, we want to take a moment to highlight some courageous women who have served our country and some of their accomplishments.
In 1975, a young woman made history as the first female naval aviator to ever fly a tactical strike aircraft. Rosemary Mariner was born in Texas in 1953 and grew up in San Diego, California. Throughout her childhood, she had always wanted to fly planes like her father, an Air Force pilot who died in a plane crash when she was just three. Mariner excelled in school, becoming the first woman to graduate from Purdue University’s aeronautical program, and she later earned a master’s in National Security Strategy from National War College.
Mariner’s career continued to be a series of firsts, as she went on to become the first woman to serve aboard a US warship, the USS Lexington, and the first woman to command a Navy aviation squadron in 1990. She also flew combat missions in support of Operation Desert Storm, commanding the Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron Thirty-Four (VAQ-34).
Mariner retired in 1997 with over 3,500 military flight hours in 15 different Navy aircraft. She died in January 2019 after a five-year battle with ovarian cancer; at her funeral, the US Navy conducted the first ever all-female Missing Man Flyover as a fitting tribute.
Colonel Ruby Bradley, born in 1907, served as a surgical nurse in the Army Nurse Corps during World War II and as a Chief Nurse in evacuation hospitals during the Korean War. As a surgical nurse at Camp John Hay in the Philippines, she was captured by the Japanese army and moved to Santo Tomas Internment Camp in Manila, where she and other captured nurses came to be known as the “Angels in Fatigues.”
She spent three years in captivity, during which time she often went hungry in order to feed starving children and smuggled surgical equipment to the POW camp. Later during the Korean War, she served as the Chief Nurse at the 171st Evacuation Hospital. In one instance, she risked her life to ensure that all the sick and wounded were boarded on a plane during an attack, narrowly escaping an enemy bomb herself.
Colonel Bradley is now known as one of the most decorated women in military history and holds 34 medals and citations of bravery, including the Florence Nightingale Award from the International Red Cross.