This is a guest post from Doris, my longtime friend. It was hard for me to read, but I don’t doubt her veracity:
Long before Vietnam was a household word, I became familiar with Southeast Asia by reading books written by Dr. Thomas Dooley. As a young teenager, I devoured his first three published books, Deliver Us From Evil, The Edge Of Tomorrow and The Night They Burned The Mountain in which he described his experiences, the people of the region and their fight against communism. The impression his stories made on me would help to guide me eventually into military service during the height of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. By the time I graduated college, the war was in full swing and I was ready to go and fight commies.
In 1970, with well over a year behind me of commissioned service in the Marine Corps, I desperately wanted a change of scenery and a chance to see the world. Orders to Okinawa: Headquarters, Camp Smedley D. Butler, provided both. It wasn’t where the action was, but at least it was WESTPAC (Western Pacific Theater of Operations)!
My military occupational specialty, or MOS, was communications, but my command had no communications center of its own where I could work, relying instead on Third Marine Division headquarters to “guard” comms for us. Because I had a security clearance, I was put in charge of classified material for the Camp Butler headquarters. It was a dull, record-keeping job in a cramped office with three male Marines and at least two cigarettes burning at any given time. I requested a transfer to the division communication center where I could perform the job I liked and was trained for, but word came back that since the division was deployable, they couldn’t have non-deployable personnel. In other words, no girls allowed.
Before my three-year active duty obligation was over, the Marine Corps was giving early outs to people with reserve commissions. I was discharged a month short of my three year contract and went on my merry way back to the civilian world. I don’t recall encountering much resentment on my return to civilian life. However, given the prevailing public sentiment, I never volunteered the fact that I had served in the military, much less ‘fess up to being a Marine. Still, I had to record my employment history on job applications and, at a time when personal privacy was not yet protected by law, word always found its way around the workplace. Antagonism from civilians was never a problem. Instead, I found that people had so little knowledge of women in military service that when they learned of my service, they hadn’t even a vague notion of which mental pigeonhole to put me in. If they had any preconceived notions at all, I usually failed to fit. It became extremely tiresome to answer questions of idle curiosity, but no harm was done.
Surprisingly, after a few months, I began to miss the Marine Corps – the structure, the dependability of comrades in uniform, the certainty of pre-screened associates (no serial killers allowed) – and joined a local reserve unit in Pennsylvania near where I lived at the time. This experience was my first with large numbers of male officers and troops. It was not my best experience. People fear what they don’t understand, and my being a woman and a reservist put two strikes against me with the full time Inspector/Instructor active duty staff. The reservists themselves were either friendly or, at least, civil. The I&I staff were actively hostile and sometimes intentionally insulting, from the commanding officer on down. As a junior officer and an unwanted female, I felt I had no recourse but to endure whatever treatment they chose to mete out.
Even some of the reserve officers senior to me couldn’t resist making their overtures of a personal, intimate nature. I distinctly recall one two-week summer deployment when the married men were becoming restless after being away from their wives for ten days or so. The executive officer of our unit pulled me aside and suggested to me, “Why don’t you be nice to” one particular major who was very being very vocal about his physical needs. I politely declined, but left that unit as soon as I could find a position in another unit. Unfortunately, the attitude was not unique to that particular assembly of Marines.
Since then I’ve endured worse treatment, but none of it sufficient to discourage me to the point of giving up. I’ve also enjoyed better treatment in reserve units where I thrived, prospered and even advanced in rank. These units were staffed with professional career Marine reservists to whom mission was paramount while, with rare exception, gender and Reserve status were consigned to their appropriate level of irrelevance.
The Marine Corps was my first real job fresh out of college, but it also offered the best continuing education I could have asked for. The Corps has been the single, consistent thread of continuity in my professional life. For that, and for all the friends I found there, especially my two BFFs Carol and Darlene, I will be forever grateful.