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Making a Difference: Women Veterans Share their Stories

“Making a Difference” is the first of three collaborative blog posts featuring authors from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Center for Women Veterans, the Library of Congress Veterans History Project (VHP) and a sailor whose story is preserved among the permanent collections of the Library of Congress. The following is a guest post by Owen Rogers, Liaison Specialist for VHP.

My earliest views of the military were shaped by a combination of film and family naval service. Although my uncle was actively serving in the Navy as the Captain of a fast attack submarine, secrecy and sparse shore leave afforded little more than a few sea stories and a poster of the USS Pogy (SSN-747) hanging in my bedroom.

As a result, my perceptions were entirely informed through a rabbit-eared television and a short stack of VHS tapes. Hollywood productions, including “The Flying Tigers,” “Sands of Iwo Jima” and “Stand by for Action,” painted valorous contributions from soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. Time and again, I watched men duel in the skies, scan nervously for submarines and raise the flag on Mount Suribachi. Perceptions accrued from an entirely male component of the U.S. Navy, 1940s screenwriting and a handful of plastic toy soldiers yielded an incredibly narrow glimpse of military culture – one that portrayed women as love interests, nurses or entirely absent.

In stark contrast to the silver screen, my young world soon became inundated with scenes of desert-camouflaged GIs, both men and women, celebrating the end of the Persian Gulf War. From the cover of my “Weekly Reader” to the “chocolate chip” sun hats dotting the town green on Memorial Day, my idea of military identity expanded through the living examples around me.

Christine Ann Mauler nee Fraley (center) in her “chocolate chip” desert camouflage uniform visiting a third grade class that had written to her while she was deployed. Southwestern Elementary School, Hanover, IN. Christine Ann Fraley Mauler Collection AFC/2001/001/71552

Christine Ann Mauler nee Fraley (center) in her “chocolate chip” desert camouflage uniform visiting a third grade class that had written to her while she was deployed. Southwestern Elementary School, Hanover, IN, 1991. Christine Ann Fraley Mauler Collection AFC/2001/001/71552.

Among an archive comprising more than 100,000 stories, approximately 6,000 women speak to the crucial role of women in the armed forces. As a forum for any man or woman who served in the U.S. military during the 20th and/or 21st centuries, VHP traces women’s military service from World War I pioneers such as Nettie Eurith Trax, of the Army Nurse Corps, through recent conflict veterans like Jaden J. Kim, a combat pilot who served in the Afghan War.

Fascinatingly nuanced, a collections scope that includes both period and contemporary materials demonstrate how women veterans fought several kinds of wars. Marylyn Myers Peyton, a Woman Airforce Service Pilot (WASP) during WWII, recalls whispered inquiries directed at her and her comrades during a bus trip. Regarding their uniforms,

One person said, ‘Oh I know what they are. They are a women’s basketball team’… and they guessed everything but never hit the right thing of course.

Reviewing the collection of another WASP, Catherine V. Bridge nee Vail, her images of iconic warplanes ferried throughout the United States belie the legislative history of the WASPs, who wouldn’t receive veteran status until 1977.

Catherine V. Bridge nee Vail (back row, 2nd from right) and students from the Air Transport Command pose with a P-51 “Mustang” during Ferrying Transition Training, January, 1945.

Catherine V. Bridge nee Vail (back row, 2nd from right) and students from the Air Transport Command pose with a P-51 “Mustang” during Ferrying Transition Training, January, 1945. Catherine V. Bridge Collection, AFC/2001/001/34158.

Even today, VHP collections are skewed towards male service; therefore, we are constantly encouraging more women veterans to share their stories. Current estimates from the Department of Veterans Affairs indicate that women account for approximately 10 percent of the national veteran population, whereas only one in every six VHP participants is female. As a “grass roots” oral history project, VHP relies on volunteer interviewers to sit down with the veteran in their life and record at least 30 minutes of military memories and lasting thoughts of service. Among the 80-100 new VHP voices that arrive at the Library of Congress every week, will yours be one of them? Visit www.loc.gov/vets today.

Five Questions with Jennifer Cutting

The following is a guest post by Jennifer Cutting.  The “Five Questions” interview was performed by Danna Bell, from the Library of Congress’s Educational Outreach office.  A shorter version of her answers is available at their blog, Teaching with the Library of Congress. Describe what you do at the Library of Congress and the materials […]

The Great American Sea Serpent

The 19th century saw an explosion of interest in sea serpents as well as other mysteries of nature in the United States and Europe. This was the dawn of an age when legend met science with the idea that science could solve ancient mysteries. One could say that we are still in that age, although […]

“Oral Tradition” on the Walls of the Jefferson Building

The following is a guest post by Jennifer Cutting.  A longtime member of the AFC Staff, Jennifer is also a trained docent and leads fascinating tours of the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building.  Her post is part of a series of blog posts about the 40th Anniversary Year of the American Folklife Center. Visit this link […]

Legacies of the Vietnam War: Veteran Charles Seymour Kettles Receives the Congressional Medal of Honor

The following is a guest post by Owen Rogers, Liaison Specialist for the Veterans History Project (VHP). Veterans and their families often ask staff at the Library of Congress Veterans History Project, “What happens to my story after it’s recorded?” In the case of Lieutenant Colonel Charles S. Kettles, U.S. Army, Retired, his inspiring personal […]

The American Folklife Center: 40 Years of Change

The following post is part of a series of blog posts about the 40th Anniversary Year of the American Folklife Center. Visit this link to see them all! This year the Library’s American Folklife Center (AFC) turns 40. Detailed histories of AFC are available elsewhere [1], so we thought we’d do something different in this […]

Familiar Faces on Display in Atlanta

A version of this post was published on “The Library of Congress” blog, July 1, 2016. One of the many joys of working at the Veterans History Project (VHP) is discovering all of the out-of-the-box ways researchers find to use the collections. VHP’s congressional mandate is to collect, preserve and make accessible the war stories […]

American Folklife Center Fellowships and Awards 2016

The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress is pleased to announce the recipients of its fellowships and awards for 2016.  This year, AFC awarded support to 8 researchers or teams. To find out how to apply for next year’s awards, please visit our research awards page at this link. Details about this year’s recipients […]