Monday, December 1, 2008

New Century, New War, and New Role for Women in the Military

Anna Osinska Krawczuk is the author of the Powder poem "War Terrorism." She is the Immediate Past National Commander of Ukrainian American Veterans. She was born in Warsaw, Poland, to Ukrainian parents. Krawczuk joined the Women’s Army Corps in 1955 in Newark, New Jersey, at 18 years old, just after becoming an American citizen. Part of her job was to run the film projector for officer briefings, some of which detailed the aftermath of liberated concentration camps. She was honorably discharged at age 21 and now draws from her time in the army for her poetry.


The history of women in America’s military service was often marked by gender discrimination, something felt even now in the fully integrated “co-ed” US Armed Forces. During the Civil War both the Union and Confederate armies forbade the enlistment of women. Women soldiers had to assume masculine names, disguise themselves as men. Some were killed in action, others were wounded. If a woman in the ranks was discovered, she were quickly dismissed from the military. Discharge documents dated April 20, 1862 for “John Williams” indicate the reason for mustering out was “that he was found to be a woman.” The most documented cases of that era are about Sarah Edmonds, alias Franklin Thompson, and a woman who called herself Albert D J Cashier – they served as registered nurse, mail and dispatch carriers. Sarah even received a government pension in 1886. Despite recorded evidence to the contrary, the US Army tried to deny that women played a role in the Civil War. Today, women serving in the military are socially accepted, thanks in part to the vision and courage of their predecessors, the women combatants of 1861–1865.

Until 1970 the highest rank for servicewoman was that of Colonel. Today, servicewomen hold higher ranks, and on July 23, 2008, the U.S. Senate confirmed the promotion of Lt Gen Ann E. Dunwoody to four-star general. She is the first woman to serve in the United States military as commanding general, US Army Materiel Command at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Presently, over 200,000 women serve on land, at sea, in the air, and on space missions – including our own - American Astronaut, US Navy Captain Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, crew member of the 27th Mission of Atlantis.

In 2006, US Air Force Thunderbird team included Major Nicole Malachowski of US Air Force, the first female demonstration pilot. Coast Guard Lt Holly Harrison was the first woman in the US Coast Guard to be awarded the Bronze Star while serving as commander of the Coast Guard Cutter Aquidneck in the waters near Iraq.

At this time, American women serving in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries are active participants in assigned missions and earn medals for courage. In Iraq, Sgt Leigh Ann Hester (of 617th Military Police Company) was the first woman soldier to receive the Silver Star since World War II. Spec. Monica Brown (82nd Airborne Division) received hers in Afghanistan. Chief Warrant Officer Lori Hill was awarded Distinguished Flying Cross for valiant flying under fire. And the list goes on and on.

We also have histories of Ukrainian-American servicewomen from World War II to Operation Iraqi Freedom. During WWII, Captain Tillie Kuzma Decyk served in US Army Nurses Corps and was awarded the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, WW II medal, and a Bronze Star to EAME Theater Ribbon. UAV members Mary Smolley Scott (Post 19) and Dorothy Sudomir Budacki (Post 28) both served in the US Navy; Mary Capcara Holuszczak and Irene Zdan (Post 101) also served. Flight nurse Evelyn Kowalchuk served in US Army Air Corps and was honored by President George W. Bush on D-Day Memorial dedication in Bedford, VA in 2001. We also know of Lt Olga Konopsky Pryjmak, who served in Viet Nam as a nurse. A WWII orphan adopted by American family, she met her husband Steven Pryjmak (himself a Purple Heart recipient) in Viet Nam (former UAV Post 30). Oksana Xenos of Post 101 served during the post Viet Nam era and attained the rank of Lt Col US Army, retiring in 1995. Maria Matlak – Lt Col US Marine Corps, retired in 1999. She was the 57th woman on active duty to attain that rank in 1982. This is just a short list—we know of many other women who have served and there are many whose histories are unknown to us.

I appeal to every servicewoman and/or veteran to register so that your story can be known and told. Register with Women in Military Service for America.

1 comment:

Jennie Timar said...

My aunt is Olga Pryjmak.