Last year, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that as of April 1, all military combat jobs would be open to women. As part of StoryCorps’ Military Voices Initiative (MVI), this week we are presenting two broadcasts from woman who served at a time when their roles and expectations were defined almost solely by their gender.
Marjorie Finlay enlisted in the Air Force in 1973 at a time when there were few women in the military. She was excited to be in uniform, but the training she received was not what she had expected when she joined up.
Instead of completing obstacle courses and firing guns, she was instructed on how to sit with her legs crossed at the ankle, how to do her hair and makeup, and how to dial a telephone with a pencil.
Even though this disappointed her, Margie (pictured in a yearbook photo at left) still loved being a member of the Air Force. But while enlisted, she became pregnant with her first child, and was told by her commanders that in order for her—a married pregnant woman—to remain in uniform, she would need her husband to sign a waiver giving his permission for her to remain in the military.
Her husband refused sign a waiver and in 1974, just before the birth of her son, Margie was forced out of the Air Force.
Margie missed being in the military and reenlisted in 1993. She and her husband divorced in 1996. Today she is a captain in the Air National Guard. She came to StoryCorps with her son, Nathan Williams (pictured together above), to talk about her early experiences serving in the Air Force. (Listen to their conversation in the player above.)
Denise Clancy comes from a long line of soldiers. In her family there are more than 200 years of combined military service. Growing up she always knew she would continue her family legacy.
Denise enlisted in the Navy in 1990 serving as a cryptologist and within a few years, when the Navy began allowing women to serve aboard combat vessels, she was deployed to the U.S.S. Enterprise. There were few women on ships at the time and Denise remembers being warned by her fellow enlistees not travel around the Enterprise at night without an escort.
While on the aircraft carrier, Denise met her future husband, Shane (pictured together above). They are both now retired from the military and came to StoryCorps to remember the ways women were treated on their ship, and what it has been like to raise their daughters in a military family. (Listen to their conversation in the player below.)
Originally aired February 27, 2016, on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday.