I Was a Woman Marine Trailblazer
I only have two government issue items from my two years of active duty in the Marine Corps: sable haired make-up brushes. That’s right government issue.
I went though boot camp in the summer of 1974 at Parris Island . That was when we soon found out that it was evidently the year of the lady in the Marine Corps. I look at all the real women now defending our country and marvel that the most important thing we had to worry about was if our lipstick matched our cap cord.
We were issued a makeup kit with eye shadow, foundation, blush and lipstick and expected to wear it – in boot camp, in August, in Parris Island, South Carolina. Why I saved the make-up brushes that are now thirty-six years old, I simply do not know. It became a game of how long I could hang onto them. Well, I did use them for a good 20 years. Really. And they now are still in my make-up basket in my bathroom. The Marine Corps believes in quality.
We Women Marines had etiquette classes and were taught that when in a skirted uniform we must always wear or carry white gloves (really), wear girdles (really) full slips (really) and high heels. Pantyhose were a given. Women Marines didn’t smoke while walking and certainly didn’t call each other “you guys.”
We heard through the grapevine that the reason for all of this was because the Marine Corps wanted to change the masculine image the public saw of its women.
One interesting thing is the way in which women’s uniforms were made for maintenance compared to men’s. Women were given those little cloth nametags with our names printed on them and required to sew them into every piece of uniform clothing. Men got a black ink stamp. In boot camp we had to wash every piece of clothing by hand. Somehow I can’t see the men doing that. Women’s uniforms were specifically made for home ironing. Except for the wool ones; if we sent them to the cleaners, they came back with all sorts of unacceptable creases. All mens’ uniforms were sent to the laundry. If they had a weird crease, well it was the laundry.
My platoon in boot camp in August 1974 was the last to be awarded the Vietnam Era ribbon, and Saigon had not yet even fallen. It never occurred to me that we were trailblazers.
My career Navy pilot father tried to convince me to enter the Naval Academy when they began accepting women and my two years were up. I had gone into the Marine Corps specifically to get the GI Bill. No way I was attending a military academy. Now those women were true trailblazers.
There are only two real trailblazing events that I remember during my two years of active duty. One was that women from my bootcamp platoon were chosen to be the first women military police in the Marine Corps. Even then they selected a rainbow of ethnic women including our one Cherokee Indian named Little One Foot who taught me how to cuss in Cherokee. She also shared her contraband M&Ms with me in the head, but that’s another story.
The other event was that there were about five of us women assigned to an off base dispersing office/warehouse. That meant enlisted men had to stand duty more often because we didn’t carry weapons. So they fixed that; we were taken to Quantico to qualify with .45 automatic pistols. This was big stuff in 1975. Very few women ever did this. We had a blast, except then we had to stand duty all night. No fun at all. There was the time, however, that in a skirt and high heels, I was required to put a holster and pistol on my hip and escort the finance officer to the bank to count and retrieve cash.
When I first entered the Marine Corps, I was absolutely amazed at the level of responsibility we were given in little time. There wasn’t much that scared this 18-year-old southern girl, except maybe that great big dark warehouse at 3 a.m.
Women of my era considered the women of the WWII era the trailblazers, taking care of all the duties at home while the men were away. We had our own trailblazing moments in the 70s. But it’s the women of today’s military who are trailblazing at warp speed and proving what women are capable of.