A hun­dred years later, women vets still strug­gle to be rec­og­nized

Mil­i­tary op­por­tu­ni­ties have evolved greatly in past cen­tury

The Day - - FRONT PAGE - By JU­LIA BERGMAN Day Staff Writer

Manch­ester — Ju­lia Lem­peck (née Ganos) was 26 when she be­came one of 350,000 Amer­i­can women to serve in the mil­i­tary dur­ing World War II.

Lem­peck, a na­tive of Star­ford, Pa., en­tered the Women’s Army Corps in 1944 at the height of war “be­cause I loved my coun­try and I be­lieved in pro­tect­ing it,” the 101-year-old New Bri­tain res­i­dent said Thurs­day at an event mark­ing the 100th an­niver­sary of en­listed women serv­ing in the mil­i­tary.

While women have served since the Amer­i­can Revo­lu­tion, it wasn’t un­til World War I that they of­fi­cially wore the uni­form. Thurs­day’s event for vet­er­ans, hosted by the Manch­ester Elks Lodge and John­son Brunetti Re­tire­ment & In­vest­ment Spe­cial­ists, rec­og­nized Lem­peck and women who’ve served in the ma­jor con­flicts since.

Lem­peck served state­side for 20 months as a clerk typ­ist, han­dling the ser­vice records of sol­diers go­ing over­seas in ad­di­tion to other ad­min­is­tra­tive work. She said Thurs­day she faced “no prob­lems” as a woman serv­ing in the mil­i­tary but the Army and pub­lic did not im­me­di­ately ac­cept the con­cept. She was honor­ably dis­charged in July 1946, earn­ing the Amer­i­can Ser­vice Medal, World War II Vic­tory Medal and Good Con­duct Medal.

The op­por­tu­ni­ties for women in the mil­i­tary have evolved greatly over the past 100 years — now all jobs, in­clud­ing com­bat po­si­tions, are open to them — but bar­ri­ers to gen­der equal­ity re­main.

Lt. Col. Les­bia Nieves of the Con­necti­cut Na­tional Guard told at­ten­dees, mostly vet­er­ans, Thurs­day that, when she re­cently was wear­ing her hat de­not­ing her ser­vice dur­ing Op­er­a­tion Iraqi Free­dom, a man asked her if her hus­band served. She ex­pressed her frus­tra­tion to the crowd, say­ing she told the man, “I earned this hat.”

Judy McAu­ley, 70, of South Wind­sor, who served in the Army dur­ing the Viet­nam War era, said she joined the mil­i­tary at a time when it wasn’t looked upon as a pos­i­tive thing for women to do. The per­cep­tion was that you didn’t have any di­rec­tion, she said.

“It wasn’t a pos­i­tive thing. Not like to­day. It’s much more ac­cepted to­day,” she said.

McAu­ley, who grew up in foster care, joined the Army at age 18, work­ing state­side in com­mu­ni­ca­tions from 1968 to 1970. She said it took a while for her to rec­og­nize her­self as a vet­eran and she didn’t speak much about her mil­i­tary ser­vice un­til re­cently.

Tammy Salmi­nen, 48, of Rockville only in­tended to serve for four years in the mil­i­tary. In­stead, “I stayed for 20,” she said.

Salmi­nen said she wasn’t well be­haved or a good stu­dent grow­ing up, so she joined the mil­i­tary to get her life on track. It was good lead­er­ship that helped her de­velop and in­spired her to stay in the Navy from 1989 to 2009, she said.

She re­called bring­ing her son, when he was 11 months old, to live with her mom and step­dad while she de­ployed on a sub­ma­rine ten­der in the Western Pa­cific, dur­ing which she went to places she never heard of be­fore: Hong Kong, Sin­ga­pore, Bahrain, Guam.

Com­mu­ni­ca­tion wasn’t what it is to­day, so her mom would record videos of her son on tape cas­settes and send them to her, and she would record videos of her­self and send them back.

Even to­day, Salmi­nen said she loves to wear her uni­forms, es­pe­cially when talk­ing to lo­cal stu­dents about the mil­i­tary for Vet­er­ans Day and other events. On those oc­ca­sions, she said she makes a point of high­light­ing the his­tory of women in the mil­i­tary, and the ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties women have in the mil­i­tary to­day.

Strug­gles to be rec­og­nized

How­ever, Salmi­nen said she strug­gles to be rec­og­nized by oth­ers as a vet­eran. She is com­man­der of Chap­ter 17 of Dis­abled Amer­i­can Vet­er­ans, and said on one oc­ca­sion when she and male mem­bers of the group were dressed in their DAV hats and jack­ets, a man ap­proached them and thanked the men for their ser­vice but not her. She was hurt and fig­ured be­cause she was a woman, the man as­sumed she wasn’t a vet­eran. A short while later, he stopped his car, got out, apol­o­gized to her and thanked her for her ser­vice, which she said she ap­pre­ci­ated.

“It’s been a long learn­ing process,” she said. “It’s go­ing to take time.”

Regina Rush-Kit­tle, 57, of Rocky Hill said she was one of the first fe­male Marines to wear the same cam­ou­flage uni­form as men.

“It’s lit­tle strides like that got us closer to be­ing fully ac­cepted in mil­i­tary,” she said.

Rush-Kit­tle served in the Ma­rine Re­serves for three years, and 27 years in the Army Re­serve, dur­ing which she de­ployed twice, first to Kuwait then Afghanistan. Dur­ing the de­ploy­ment to Afghanistan, she was the se­nior en­listed per­son­nel in a mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence bat­tal­ion of 275-plus sol­diers and of­fi­cers.

Rush-Kit­tle said she al­ways had a drive to serve and while a stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Con­necti­cut, she learned she could serve her coun­try and have an­other ca­reer by en­list­ing in the re­serves. She worked for the Con­necti­cut State Po­lice for 28 years and re­port­edly is the high­est-rank­ing African-Amer­i­can woman ever to serve in the Con­necti­cut State Po­lice.

She is a 2017 in­ductee into the Con­necti­cut Women’s Hall of Fame, and was in­ducted in the same class as Capt. Kristin Gri­est, the Army’s first fe­male in­fantry of­fi­cer, and Col. Ruth Lu­cas, the first African-Amer­i­can woman to achieve the rank of colonel in the Air Force.

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