Monday, August 20, 2018

I Was a Woman Marine Trailblazer

December 3, 2010 by  
Filed under Bras & Boots, Most Recent Posts

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.

Cam Brown’s Blog


18 Responses to “I Was a Woman Marine Trailblazer”
  1. Diane Ollie says:

    Just checking in.

    Diane Ollie

  2. JoAnn Graves says:

    I went though Navy boot camp in 67, at Bainbridge, MD. We also learned how to walk and talk in uniform. One thing that we in the Navy were required to wear was the RED lipstick. Couldn’t go anywhere without it. The other was the smoking and walking, that was always like that, never could you smoke while in uniform and be walking around. The other big thing was not showing any affection in uniform. Oh, those were the days.

  3. Donna (Madl) Davenport says:

    In 1974 I was in Platoon 6-A and loved it. I also attended Admin School & Unit Diary School. My permanent duty station was Quantico, VA with Headquarters Company, Headquarters Battalion, MECDEC.
    Your information was Noteworthy.

  4. Teresa Worden Anderson says:

    I also was in boot camp in 1974…..I remember everything you said, however, I have no clue where all the makeup brushes are…lol.

    Station at MCAS El Toro which is no longer with us. Good memories.

  5. Sherri McKinnon Stavola says:

    I was at Parris Island from June 75 to October 75 (Boot Camp, Admin School and SRB School). Many memories remembered. My makeup (all of it) went to my older sister after Boot Camp. Couldn’t wear it…made my face break out. Remember the trip to Savannah? After Boot Camp I was stationed in WASHDC (Andrews AFB) Marine Aircraft Support Detachment. Semper Fi, Ladies…

  6. LaDonna (Chance) Bangeman says:

    Platoon 10-B – October – December 1972. I remember those classes. I also remember the trip to “the Pirates House” in Savannah, GA right before we graduated! I also remember those old wooden barracks with the giant fans on either end and waxing those wooden floors with this giant machine for field night! Best time of my life – after MOS (4312) school I came back to Parris Island and was assigned as a reporter with The Boot newspaper……nothing online back then! I’m pretty sure my typewriter was manual!

  7. Betty Comerford Qualls says:

    I was at PI in boot camp from April-June 1974, Plt. 4-B. This also brought back memories of sand gnats with saber teeth, 5 am floor buffing, and singing for breakfast, lunch and dinner!!! I took my 14 yr old daughter back there for a visit in 2002. The base isn’t as big as I remember and certainly not as intimidating as a civilian:) The funniest thing I remember about etiquette and being a female Marine in boot camp was the requirement to wear a girdle!!! At nineteen, I certainly didn’t need it then, but I sure could use it now:) Great memories and always proud to be known as “Marine”. Semper Fi

  8. Carole Liperr says:

    I am looking for a WM, Teresa Worden. Terri was stationed at El Toro, Weather Office.
    I was there when she was. May 1976. There was an opening in the weather office, Okinawa. One of us could go. She was looking at 2 more years, I had less time to be there. She took the transfer even though it would extend her tour 2 additional years, 6 total. The sexual harassment at El Toro ,weather office was out of control. She said to me ,”i can’t stand the possibility of staying here in this hell hole two more years”. She transfered, I was stuck there. I was even raped in the tower/ weather office parking lot in my own van . It wasn’t the only time it happened On that Base. I need a witness to prove to VA, That the hell hole of El Toro indeed did exist. I need her to contact me ASAP !

  9. Carol Surzinski says:

    Trailblazer! Seriously! I served from May 1968 until September 1976 until my DAV honorable discharge. I was in platoon 7A, ’68, Parris Island. We never were given a makeup kit nor were we required to wear such except the red bright lipstick that matched the red on our dress blues. As for qualifying with a weapon I did that back in ’72 when stationed in Camp Pendleton, Comm Center. We were required to have a side arm working in the Comm Center.

    A Trailblazer IMHO is any Woman Marine that went through three months of nuclear biological warfare school of which I did in ’72 in Okinawa, Japan.

    A trailblazer IMHO is any Woman Marine who served in rear lines support such as Saigon or Japan during the Vietnam War. Not many of us were allowed to do so. I know of only one female Marine that served in Saigon while I served at Futeuma Marine Corp Air Station, Okinawa, Japan (only NATO Base in the Pacific) as rear lines support to all branches of the military that came through to go to or come back from Vietnam.

    A trailblazer is any Woman Marine who served in the Pentagon with DACOWITS during the Vietnam War of which I was proud to serve.

    As for momentos I have kept only the dress blue cover and my Department Of Defense medal/badge that I wore when I worked at the Pentagon for DACOWITS and my Sgt Stripes, my discharge papers and a picture in my dress blues.

    As far as sexist attitudes with Marines I only experienced it in Okinawa with a MSgt who felt woman had no business in the military let alone in the Marine corps and should be at home, barefooted, pregant, and in the kitchen. For his supidity I reported him when the base had a GI inspection and I requested a meeting with the GI inspectors. The Colonel was pissed of that I did and gave me a less than favorable proficency report….like I cared. He and that MSgt lost out and I was given a job at the Pentagon and prior to going to the Pentagon was on loan to director of Women Marines for three months until her admin replacement arrived.

    I served at HQMC, Arlington, VA; served at the Pentagon, DACOWITS; MCAS, Okinawa; Camp Pendleton, CA; Navy Yard Arlington VA in legal from May 1968 until Sept. 1977. If not for my disability discharge I would most likely have done 20+.

    One thing I did not tolerate were male marines belittling woman marines, or there abusing any of us. One thing I could not stand was for a female marine dating a male marine and allowing him to beat the crap out of her. A couple male marines found out real quick like they were not going to beat on our female marines and I dared them go report that they got ass whipped by a female marine. Camp Pendleton was good for that more so than any other base I was ever attached to.

    Women Marine as trailblazers during the time I was in was having us Sgts and SSgt be officer in charge on duty. During the war there simply were not enough officers available so we were “temporary officer in charge” on our duty days…..what few officers we had were otherwise engaged.

    Male Marines on Okinawa also found out real quick like to obey a female marines orders who out ranked them. That was in ’72-’73.

    The only thing I did not like about being stationed anywhere in the U S was that civilians did not like us being involved in the Vietnam War and we had standing orders to never wear our uniforms off duty or out in town or when we traveled and we were not to announce we were in the military let alone the Marines and that was more so in the Washington DC area at the time because of all the riots and noise going on in that area. Same went when we were in Camp Pendleton. It certainly was not fun to be spit on or ganged up on which experienced when in those areas in the civilian community.

    Women Marines from way before me and after me have been trailblazer and opened the doors for what Women Marines enjoy today.

    DACOWITS for those of you who may not know what that stands for is Defense Advisory Committee For Women In The Service which is where I worked at the Pentagon for almost 18 months. Policy was decided on changes to be made or allowed to improve the quality of life and various jobs women should be allowed to be a part of in the military.

  10. Yvette Goins says:

    I was in Platoon 7B, 1974 and graduated in September right have Nixon resigned from office. I have to say my 6 years active duty were not as bad as some of the previous stories as I lucked out in both NAS Memphis and MCAS El Toro to be assigned to the CO/CG’s staff. The worst time I had was when I went into the reserves at Encino, CA and had to deal with a LtCol who didn’t like me or my husband to be. He couldn’t do anything about us dating since we were both SNCOs but he sure made it pure hell for both of us. The memories I have have been coming back in wave and I don’t regret one minute of my time in the service. I just wish I could hook up with some of my girl friends as I lost touch with them as we went our separate ways. Semper Fi

  11. Mary Kay Waizenhofer Smith says:

    Tried to join in May/Jun 1974, but women had to be 18. They changed the age requirement sometime that summer so I put my hand up 19 Sep 1974 and because of space I had to wait to Jan 75 to enter 1B. Last platoon in the old barracks and first in the new complex. They tore the old barracks down before we graduated. I have the old paper list of what we had to bring to bootcamp and what we were issued – have the make-up case and some old uniforms, but what I miss is the connection with some of the people I was honored to know during my time. There was a retired WO I talked with at Beaufort Naval Hospital around 1977, the twins I went to bootcamp with and stationed with a short time – Vivian and Diane Klatt, Col Q who I looked up to at HQMC who should of been a general – so many I could go on forever. There are so many who are in my thoughts forever and am so proud to have crossed their path. Thank you for the memories and for your service, specially for the ones before me.

  12. Shelby DuClos Miller Dawes says:

    I was in Platoon 7A in July 1974. What I remember the most is we had to wear the Red Lipstick everyday. I don’t remember any other make-up. My best friend to this day is Barbara Melvin whom I met in Boot Camp. WOW, 39 years ago July 10th I went in. I still look for a friend I worked with at Henderson Hall, in the Company Office for Officer, Debbie Bennett. I stood for her and her husband Carl Kelder in I believe April of 1976, but so long ago I don’t remember. In boot camp I remember we had to take salt pills everyday. My favorite days were when it rained and riding in the Cattle Cars. If I only had picture of these. You can’t explain some of those memories. I also remember when we got to see President Nixon resign. I was stationed in Headquarters Marine Corps after leaving Parris Island and remained there for the 4 years. Worked in the Pentagon for Asst Secretary of the Navy and served as a Security Guard for President Carter’s Inauguration! After I left the Marine Corps I moved to Washington State and have lived here since 1978. Semper Fi! I am Proud to have served as a Women Marine.

  13. Tracy Crow says:

    Every generation stands tall on the shoulders of those American military women trailblazers who came before. Every generation has been groundbreaking — our WWII sisters, yours, mine (1977-1987), and certainly today’s. Thank you for your service! (Author of EYES RIGHT: CONFESSIONS FROM A WOMAN MARINE)

  14. Kirsten Coelho Sultemeier says:

    Carole Lipper, you can probably find her on the Women Marines Association Facebook page. I believe she is there.
    I went to PI in 1987. We were among the first 20 Series to qualify with the M-16. We thought we were “it. ” I look at our young sisters today and realize they are required to do more and be stronger every day.

    Thank you for blazing the trail. We have all benefitted from the accomplishments of our predecessors.

    Semper Fi

  15. Teresa (Terri) Worden Anderson says:

    Carole, This is Terri Worden…I was stationed at El Toro from 1974 to 1978. I never went to OKI. I am so sorry to hear that you were raped. If you would like to contact me, my email is

  16. Dede Lewis Leuthe says:

    I graduated with 5B in summer of 75. Stationed at HQMC, then 4th Marine Division, Okinawa, Camp Pendleton. Spent 10 years in the USMC and very proud of it. I remember so clearly the green eyeshadow and the red lip stick. Still have my white gloves. Ah yes, a little different now…….

  17. I went to Paris Island Feburary of 75. I was chosen to be one of the Women Marine MP’s went to Fort Gordon Georgia,then I went to the 1st Marine MP school at El Toro California in September of 75. I served my 3 years and you’re right there was constant harassment every day. I was raped by two Marine Liaisons at Fort Gordon and when I got out they said you’re not really Marine.40 years later I did get my military disability but while I was in I served with honor and I’m proud of myself. I did it and didn’t give up so yes I was a trailblazer just like those before me anyone else out there from to be I’ve often wondered about you guys are you out there Mouse?
    I do remember having to wash clothes out by hand and they had a couple washers and dryers brand new. Still a couple of us decided we would use them,no one would know.WRONG.We came back from class and they were thrown all over and we to reward them by hand in 5 minutes and be out in formation not smart. Oh you wouldn’t believe how much trouble I got for to land on a toothpick.

    I met a lot of interesting women at boot camp. We were all so different but by the end of the boot camp we were a unit.
    I do remember they were interested in teaching us to be ladies. Not what I was expecting. But it did no harm. Can you imagine a platoon of women with wigs,silly little covers. Those button up utility skirts from before 1960s.Anklets,black oxford shoes. Bright red lipstick marching down the street. The uniforms have come a long way thank goodness.
    Anyone from to be can text me at SEMPER FIE

  18. Rose M Redmond says:

    Summer 1969 – Platoon 5A
    Had never heard of pantyhose then. LOL
    Semper Fi!!!

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