Celebrating Missouri's women veterans

Sunday, March 28, 2010

This month is the 30th anniversary of Women's History Month in the United States. In Missouri, women veterans have played a crucial role shaping the freedoms we celebrate today.

Missouri's women veterans have always answered the call even to the point of disguising themselves as men to serve in the military. One such notable Missouri woman was Cathay Williams, who was born a slave in Independence, Mo. Serving as a man, Cathay disguised herself as a Buffalo soldier, the first and only known documented African-American woman to serve in the U.S. Army during the 19th century.

Because of patriots like Cathay Williams, women serve proudly and openly as essential components of today's military. Women serve in the full spectrum of the military positions taking on roles long thought to be suitable only for men. It was a long and difficult fight to prove that duty, honor and patriotism are not measured by gender.

Recently, Rose "Penny" Ross, a resident of the Mexico Veterans Home, traveled to Washington, D.C., where the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs, were honored with the Congressional Gold Medal. Penny served as a transport pilot flying both the B-26 and B-29 bombers. She faced overwhelming cultural and gender bias just to serve her country. At one point she was told that it was up to her to prove it to the male pilots that the bombers were "easy to fly."

Penny and other women like her were truly modern trailblazers for women in military. Yet many women who served in World War and Korea still do not feel they have earned veterans status. The Missouri Veterans Commission recently received a letter that started, "I am not a veteran but am a woman who served in the Army from 1953-1955 as a personnel clerk."

Nothing is further from the truth, according to Karen Etzler, women veterans coordinator with the Missouri Veterans Commission. Karen's outreach initiative based in St. Joseph, Mo., focuses specifically on the unique needs of this special segment of the veterans population. Karen, an Air Force veteran, makes it her mission to ensure that Missouri's Women veterans access the benefits they so rightly deserve. She was just recently appointed to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee on Women Veterans by Secretary Eric K. Shinseki. To contact Karen, you can call 816-387-2841, e-mail Karen.etzler@mvc.dps.mo.gov or go to <I>www.mvc.dps.mo.gov for more information.

Brave American women have always answered our country's call to freedom and liberty as civilians, disguised as men and serving openly and proudly. They have sacrificed time, family and even their lives. Nothing we do can fully repay what they have given, but we here at the Missouri Veterans Commission will do everything in our power to recognize their service and sacrifice and get them the benefits and recognition they deserve.

Larry D. Kay is the executive director of the Missouri Veterans Commission.

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