12 Things You May Not Know About Women in the Military

Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester stands at attention before receiving the Silver Star on June 16, 2005, at Camp Liberty, Iraq. DOD photo

Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester stands at attention before receiving the Silver Star on June 16, 2005, at Camp Liberty, Iraq. DOD photo

In honor of Women’s History Month, we gathered 12 pieces of trivia about the legacy of women in the U.S. military. See if you know them:

1. Although they weren’t officially enlisted at first, women have served in the U.S. Army since 1775. In the 18th century, American women tended to the wounded, washed and mended clothing and cooked for male troops.

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Mary E. Walker

2. In 1779, Margaret Corbin became the first woman to receive a military pension. During the Revolutionary War, Corbin manned her husband’s canon after he was shot and killed in battle. Corbin was subsequently injured in the same battle and never fully recovered from her wounds.

3. After the Civil War, Dr. Mary E. Walker was awarded the Medal of Honor for her work as a contract surgeon in the Union Army. She’s the only woman to receive this award. In 1917, Walker was stripped of her medal due to changes in regulations. After many appeals, her medal was reinstated in 1977.

4. In 1866, Cathay Williams was the first African American woman to enlist in the Army, doing so under the pseudonym William Cathay. She was assigned to the 38th U.S. Infantry. Despite being hospitalized for illness several times, she managed to hide her gender for almost two years before a post surgeon discovered she was a female, leading to her discharge.

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Twin sisters Genevieve and Lucille Baker

Twins Genevieve and Lucille Baker. DOD photo

5. Women were officially allowed to join the U.S. military during last two years of World War I, and 33,000 of them signed up to work as nurses and in other support roles. More than 400 nurses died serving America during the Great War.

6. In 1918, twins Genevieve and Lucille Baker became two of the first women to serve in the Coast Guard.

7. Navy Rear Adm. Grace Hopper was one of the first — and most influential — computer programmers. Hopper played an important role in the development of the COBOL programming language and helped shape how programmers code today. Also, she’s often credited with popularizing the term “debugging.”

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Navy Adm. Grace Hopper at work. DOD photo

8. During World War II, 88 American women were captured and held as prisoners of war.

9. Brig. Gen. Hazel W. Johnson-Brown was the first African American woman to become an Army general. Brown enlisted in 1955 and later became the chief of the Army Nurse Corps.

10. Females weren’t allowed to attend the four service academies until 1976. The USO’s magazine On Patrol profiled some of these women in its Spring 2012 issue.

Col. Linda McTague

Col. Linda McTague.

11. In 2004, Col. Linda McTague became the first woman commander of an Air National Guard wing and also the first woman to command an Air Force fighter squadron.

12. In 2005, Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester (pictured at the beginning of this story) became the first woman since World War II to receive the Silver Star for combat actions.

Photos Through the Decades: Celebrating the USO’s 74th Birthday

In honor of the USO’s 74th birthday, we’re taking a trip through time to revisit some of the iconic images we’ve captured. Here are a few snapshots that show how the USO has supported troops and their families over the decades.

1940s

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Leaders from the six founding organizations of the USO shake hands in 1941. USO photo

The USO, which stands for United Service Organizations (don’t forget the “s” in “Organizations”) traces its roots back to six other organizations. The Salvation Army, Young Men’s Christian Association, Young Women’s Christian Association, National Catholic Community Services, National Travelers Aid Association and the National Jewish Welfare Board pooled resources to start the USO on Feb. 4, 1941, at the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

1950s

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Marylin Monroe at a USO show in Korea in 1954. USO photo

This snapshot shows Hollywood star Marilyn Monroe entertaining troops in Korea in 1954. Monroe entertained more than 100,000 troops while on tour for the USO. The USO still produces and hosts dozens of international celebrity tours each year.

1960s

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Troops hold up a “Hi Bob” banner during one of Bob Hope’s USO shows. USO photo

Bob Hope was a USO tour staple for 50 years, making his last overseas trip to entertain troops during the Gulf War. In honor of his service and commitment to the military community, the USO center at Los Angeles International Airport bears his name today. In fact, the USO worked with Congress to designate Hope as first honorary veteran of the United States military.

1970s

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Sammy Davis Jr. performs in Long Binh, Vietnam, in 1972. USO photo

Sammy Davis Jr., a veteran himself, entertained 15,000 troops in his first USO performance alone. According to the USO’s On Patrol Magazine, Davis relished his tour and encouraged fellow entertainers to continue the tradition. “My recent tour in Vietnam was one of the most exciting and satisfying experiences of my career,” Davis said after the 1972 circuit. “I can only urge all entertainers to support this much needed USO program.”

1980s

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The USO Naples fleet center after it was bombed in 1988. USO photo

It was a somber scene outside the USO Naples fleet center on April 14, 1988, after a deadly car bomb exploded just outside the entrance, killing five people – including Navy RM2 Angela Santos – and injuring 15. In 2013, USO Naples hosted Santos’ sister, Jennifer Cruz, and held a special service in Santos’ memory.

1990s

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Jay Leno entertains troops during the Gulf War. USO photo

Jay Leno has been making troops laugh for decades. He recently returned from a USO tour with Al Roker. Leno auctioned off a pair of cars in the last few years to raise nearly $1 million for military nonprofits. He also helped raise thousands for the USO serving as the grand marshal of 2012’s Love Ride through Southern California. “I have a couple of West Pointers in my family,” Leno recently told the USO. “And there’s a little sense [that] you’ve got to give something back. I didn’t get shot in the ass, I should do something else [for the troops].”

2000s

Comedian Robin Williams greets troops during a 2007 USO Chairman's Holiday Tour stop at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, on Dec. 17, 2007. Photo by Chad J. McNeeley/Courtesy of the Department of Defense

Comedian Robin Williams greets troops during a USO Chairman’s Holiday Tour stop at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, on Dec. 17, 2007. Photo by Chad J. McNeeley/Courtesy of the Department of Defense

Robin Williams was committed to making service members smile. The comic legend, who passed away in 2014, went on six USO tours from 2002 to 2013, including five overseas. Through his work with the USO, Williams visited troops in 12 countries, making three stops to both Iraq and Afghanistan. “There’s nothing I enjoy more than traveling with the USO and giving back to our troops in whatever way I can,” Williams said during a 2007 USO tour led by then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen. “They work hard, sacrifice a lot and deserve to be treated like the heroes they are. The very least I can do is bring a smile to their faces.”

2010s

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Kids watch the 2012 Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. USO photo by Fred Greaves

The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families tour entertained its 500,000th audience member in 2014. It’s the USO’s longest-running tour and is specially designed to help military children tackle the unique issues they face growing up with parents who serve.

Want to learn even more fun facts about the USO’s history? Check out our 73 facts for 73 years story from last year

USO Tour Veterans Katy Perry and Idina Menzel Set To Take the Stage at Super Bowl XLIX

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As troops around the world head to USO centers to watch the big game, veteran USO performers Katy Perry and Idina Menzel will take the stage during the halftime and pre-game shows, respectively, to entertain the estimated 100 million Americans expected to watch.

Perry, who will be performing with special guest Lenny Kravitz, participated in the 2010 “VH1 Divas Salute the Troops” show presented by the USO, singing classic numbers with other performer like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” in addition to performing her own hit songs.

Menzel, who will sing the national anthem, recently participated in a USO satellite media tour promoting USO Wishbook, an alternative giving catalog that supports troops and their families.

Menzel also met with three New York City-area military families before performing at Bloomingdale’s Holiday Concert and Window Unveiling show in November.

In addition to meeting Menzel, the families enjoyed a day full of food and fun in New York City, including a pizza lunch and a trip to Dylan’s Candy Bar.

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“Each family had the most adorable children,” Menzel said. “I got to get to know them a little bit and tell them how much I appreciate the sacrifices they make.

“I also recognize how difficult the holidays can be when they’re apart, so any kind of laughter or joy I could bring to the situation was nice.”

Medal of Honor Recipient Rides Shotgun with Roush Fenway Racing’s Trevor Bayne at NASCAR Nationwide Series

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PHOENIX–With Veterans Day approaching, Rouch Fenway Racing and USO Arizona teamed up to kick off this year’s festivities with a roar.

Roush Fenway Racing driver Trevor Bayne, had two special additions on his No. 6 AdvoCare Ford Mustang at this weekend’s NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) event at Phoenix International Raceway to honor those who have served.

In addition to featuring the USO logo on the side and back of his vehicle, Bayne sported Medal of Honor recipient Fred Ferguson’s name on his passenger door. Bayne, who finished ninth in the race, also took a moment to give troops a shout before hitting the track this weekend.

In addition to meeting Bayne and seeing his name on the car, Ferguson, who received the Medal of Honor in 1969 for actions in Vietnam, was formally recognized at the pre-race driver’s meeting with a standing ovation.

Ferguson enjoyed VIP treatment throughout the day Saturday, thanks to Rouch Fenway Racing. He along with Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael  McGuire, USAA Executive Director Military Affinity and retired Marine Lt. Col. Bob Wiedower and other guests got an exclusive behind-the-scenes view of raceday action.

After 73 Years, USO Fort Drum Bids Farewell to Longtime Volunteer Mary Parry

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After 73 years, Mary Parry’s volunteer mission at the USO is officially complete.

Earlier this month, Parry, 91, moved to a retirement home in Ohio to be closer to her daughter, Barbara Miller, and will no longer be able to serve at the USO Fort Drum center in upstate New York.

The Geneva, New York, native, who has volunteered at many different USO centers, will be sorely missed.

“I think of Mary as a national treasure,” USO Fort Drum Director Karen Clark wrote in an email. “She started volunteering for the USO in 1941, worked at the Watertown Chamber for years, and volunteered with Rotary, the Salvation Army and Red Cross.”

Parry’s volunteer career at the USO began in 1941, just after she graduated high school.

As the American Profile reported in 2008:

Parry was 18 when she and her girlfriends signed up to help at a USO center housed in a former automobile showroom in her hometown of Geneva, N.Y. (pop. 13,617).

“The fellas were all joining the military,” she says. “So we thought, ‘Hey, we’ll go down there and dance. What else are we gonna do?’ Were we in for a rude awakening.”

[…] Over the decades, the jovial Parry has volunteered at several USO centers while living in various towns in the Northeast with her husband, Walter. In fact, when she moved to Watertown in 1959, Parry spotted a USO sign in a downtown window and soon she was running the place. When the building closed, she operated the organization out of her home, hosting cookouts for servicemen and sometimes taking in weary soldiers for the night to give them a small taste of home.

USO Fort Drum Director Karen Clark poses in front of a portrait of Mary Parry in 2008. The portrait still hangs in the USO Fort Drum center today. USO photo by Jason Cutshaw

Parry’s daughter, Barbara Miller, who’s father served in the Navy, says Parry loved every moment she spent volunteering for the USO and has many stories from her years of service.

“The USO was her life. It was totally her life,” Miller said.

Thank you, Mary Parry, for your decades of service to troops and their families.

Want to learn more about Marry Parry and her service? Check out this 2010 USO blog post about honoring Parry and thanking her for her service.

Sesame Street / USO Experience for Military Families Cast Members Share Their Favorite Tour Memories

Grover, Cookie Monster, Katie, Elmo, Honker and  Rosita sing and dance for service members and their kids during The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families which kicked off April 7, 2012 at Scott Air Force Base. (USO photo by Fred Greaves)

Grover, Cookie Monster, Katie, Elmo, Honker and Rosita entertain service members and their kids during The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families on April 7, 2012 at Scott Air Force Base. (USO photo by Fred Greaves)

Since 2008, the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families tour has made unforgettable memories for military children and their families all around the world. The longest-running annual USO tour has delivered moments to hundreds of thousands of military children and their parents through more than 735 shows at more than 144 military bases in 11 countries.

In the spirit of the USO’s Every Moment Counts campaign — and in preparation for entertaining the tour’s 500,000th audience member — members of the 2014 cast and crew shares some their favorite Sesame Street/USO Experience memories.

Here’s just a small sample of the amazing stories they had to tell:

“My favorite moment actually happened in Spain. … A little girl came up, she gave me a picture to give to Elmo. I brought it backstage, gave it to Elmo, and the picture said, ‘Thank you Elmo for coming all the way across the sea to Spain, just to see me.’ And I think it really brought home exactly how important it is for these kids to see this show.” — Stephanie Harmon, performance director

“I have many favorite moments, but one that happens every single day [is] when hundreds of kids and parents walk out with huge smiles on their faces, holding onto their Elmo spinning lights, telling me how much they enjoyed the show, and they constantly say thank you to me. Its a stream of ‘thank you’s. And since I think the show is our way of saying thank you to those same military families, it’s great to just get that cycle of thank you.” — Nicole McClendon, tour manager

Want to learn more about the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families or see if a show is coming near you? Find out more here.