(Editor's Note: While Pete Mecca takes a Thanksgiving break, the Citizen is re-running one of his articles from 2016.)
March 23, 2003: An enemy ambush inflicts heavy casualties on an Army Company near Nasiriyanic, Iraq. Two female soldiers, Shoshana Johnson and Jessica Lynch, are wounded and captured. Jessica Lynch would later receive heroic yet controversial media coverage. Another lady warrior, Pfc. Lori Piestewa, was killed in the ambush. Piestewa became the first American female to perish in the Iraq War. A Hopi Indian from Arizona and mother of two small children, she is thought to be the first female Native American Indian to die as a soldier in the service of her country. Among several honors, Squaw Peak in Phoenix was renamed Piestewa Peak in remembrance.
April 4, 1975: The first fully loaded C-5 Galaxy cargo plane lifts off from Vietnam as part of Operation Babylift. President Ford has ordered as many displaced and orphaned Vietnamese children as possible to be flown to safety before the Communist takeover. Shortly after takeoff, the huge C-5 Galaxy has a malfunction, then crashes into a field of rice paddies. Of over 300 aboard, 78 children and 50 adults perish. About 170 survive the crash. Capt. Mary Therese Klinker, a flight nurse on duty with the 10th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron out of California, is among the dead. She was 27.
To properly honor America’s fallen female warriors would take several weekend editions allowing unlimited wordage. Women have been in Harm’s Way since the Revolutionary War and thousands have paid the ultimate price. This is the story of just a few.
The Revolutionary War: Without detailed physicals, untold numbers of small-framed (and more importantly fully-clothed) warriors joined their husbands, lovers and brothers in the fight for America’s independence. Women with the calloused hands and leathered faces of strenuous life on the frontier looked as tough and mean as the males, a feature which disguised softer physical attributes. Well-known female veterans were even awarded benefits, but deficient paperwork and unmarked graves hid an accurate toll of female casualties. One recorded death, a Creole girl named Sally St. Clair, followed her lover into combat and fought by his side. She gave her life protecting his during the Battle of Savannah.
The War of 1812: Many American women followed their men camp to camp. If they lost a husband to the war, the widows were given three to six months to grieve then had to remarry within the camp or leave. At least three official reports indicated widows who were married four times within five months. Out at sea aboard the USS Constitution, Marine sharpshooter George Baker took a heavy toll on the British with his deadly aim in numerous major battles. Thing is, George Baker was actually Lucy Brewer. After the war, Lucy was finally acknowledged as the first female Leatherneck to serve her country. Having been deceived once, it would be over 100 years before the U.S. Marines seriously recruited women.
Mexican-American War: Considering the horrible fact that hundreds of American soldiers were buried in mass or unmarked graves during the Mexican campaign, one can only imagine if a female was among them she will never be recognized.
However, two females, a Mrs. Foley and a Mrs. Sarah Borginis enlisted with their husbands in the 8th Calvary at Jefferson Barracks in Missouri. Sarah became the head cook at Ft. Brown in Texas and remained on the job when General Zachary Taylor moved his forces to the mouth of the Rio Grande. When the Mexicans bombarded Ft. Brown, she was issued a musket and took an active part in the battle, allegedly never missing a shot, nor preparing a meal. General Taylor breveted her to colonel, the first female colonel of the U.S. Army, albeit a brevet one. Sarah died in 1866 and was buried with full military honors at Ft. Yuma.
The Civil War: Over 60 women were either killed or wounded serving in the Civil War. One female from Michigan, a 19-year-old known only as Emily, ran away from home to serve in the drum corps. She was fatally wounded in the battle for Chattanooga. As she lay dying, she dictated a letter to her father, “Forgive your dying daughter. I have but a moment to live. My native soil drinks my blood; I expected to deliver my country but the fates would not have it. I am content to die. Pray forgive me ….. Emily.”
The bodies of two uniformed Confederate women were found after the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. A female Union flag bearer was also killed in the same battle during Picketts Charge. Sgt. Frank Mayne was killed in the Western Theater but the soldier was actually a woman named Francis Day.
The Spanish American War: Twenty-two women, all nurses, died in the service of their country. Of the 22, one was undiagnosed, one died from malaria, and 20 died from typhoid fever. Among them were two African-Americans and five nuns. Nurse Clara Maass survived the war then volunteered to participate in a Yellow Fever experimental treatment program. The experiment killed her.
World War One: Nurses bore the brunt of fatalities, but new roles began taking their toll among telephone operators, dietitians, Salvation Army women, Red Cross workers, YMCA volunteers, and military intelligence. Be it artillery shells, air raids, or natural deaths, 111 Army nurses died overseas, 186 perished stateside, over 20 US Navy Yoeman (females) died and 27 women of the Navy Nurse Corps. The final total was in the hundreds.
World War Two: Army nurse Aleda Lutz was the first US military woman to perish in a combat zone during WWII when her hospital plane went down. She was on her 196th rescue mission. Six Army nurses lost their lives on Anzio Beach, 4 nurses who survived Anzio were awarded Silver Stars for courage under fire. Six nurses died and 4 were wounded when a Japanese Kamikaze plane struck their hospital ship USS Comfort in the South Pacific.
Four days after D-Day, Army nurse Lt. Francis Slanger and three other nurses were hit by shrapnel from a German artillery barrage. Slanger died from her injuries five months later in Boston. By the end of WWII, over 400 military women had lost their lives. Overlooked by history, the WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots) lost 38 proficient female aviators transporting military aircraft.
The Korean War: From Ensigns to a major, 15 nurses lost their lives in Korea. Non-hostile deaths claimed four more nurses.
Vietnam: Lts. Carol Drazba and Elizabeth Jones died when their helicopter crashed near Saigon. Both were 22 years old. Three nurses died in a plane crash near Qui Nhon. Lt. Pamela Donavan died in Qui Nhon from a serious illness. She was 26. Lt. Sharon Lane died in a rocket attack at Chu Lai. She was 25. The chief nurse at Tuy Hoa, Lt. Col. Annie Graham, suffered a stroke and died four days later. She had served in WWII and Korea. She was 52.
Desert Storm: Major Marie Rossi was flying a Chinook Cargo Chopper in bad weather when it hit an unlit tower. She was 32. Thirteen Army female soldiers died during Desert Storm, and one Navy AG1. Stateside, Air National Guard Pilot Carol McKinney was lost.
Even in peacetime, women warriors make the ultimate sacrifice. The first woman pilot in Navy history, Lt. Cmdr. Barbara Rainey, was lost in an aircraft training accident in 1982. Lt. Colleen Cain, the first female HH-52A pilot in the Coast Guard, lost her life the same year when her chopper crashed into the side of a mountain. April 14, 1994: Lt. Laura Piper, an Air Force Academy graduate, was among the 26 people killed when Air Force fighter jets shot down 2 Army helicopters over Iraq. Lt. Kara Hultgreen, the first woman to qualify in Navy combat-ready F-14 Tomcats, perished in a freak crash while on final approach to the USS Abraham Lincoln on Oct 25, 1994. An engine malfunction had caused the left engine to stall. Capt. Amy Svoboda lost her life in the crash of an A-10 Thunderbolt. A Black Hawk helicopter crash in 1997 killed Spec. Angela Niedermayer. AF Senior Master Sgt. Sherry Olds lost her life in the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassy in East Africa. Army pilot Capt. Jennifer Odem perished when her reconnaissance aircraft hit the side of a mountain in southern Colombia in the war against narco-guerrillas.
Seven military women lost their lives in the Pentagon attack on 9/11, and at last count the War on Terror has claimed the lives of over 150 females serving in uniform.
From the day we declared our independence to the rugged mountains of Afghanistan, women have served with honor and distinction. They are the mothers, daughters, sisters, nieces, girlfriends, fiancés, or just the girl next door who truly understand the cost of freedom. Pray for the ladies, as well as their brothers.