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Training and Education Command

United States Marine Corps
WMA celebrates 60 years with anniversary dinner

By Cpl. Amanda Harris | | February 21, 2003

MCRD PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. -- Celebrating 60 years of service to the Marine Corps, the local Women Marines Association held an anniversary dinner Feb. 13, at Golden Corral, Beaufort, S.C.

As the Band of Sisters from the Phyllis Alexander Chapter shared dinner, memories abounded and stories and laughter were flying.

Vivian Vega, an active duty Marine from 1970-72, recounted these memories of her enlistment:

"When I came in, women were mostly cooks and secretaries, but I trained for supply in Quantico," she said. "When I checked into my unit there were only two of us females in my unit, but we had our own company, our own chow hall and all female cooks, and we had to sing for our supper. We received our pay in cash, but only after we weighed in.

"Then everyone used nicknames instead of real names. To my white friends, I was Dixie and to my black friends, I was Ebony Queen. Then and now, one thing is the same for all Marines - I still remember my DIs and I will never forget them."

A few female Marines from the 1950s traded stories about the importance of femininity to early female Marines.

"I joined in a time when you were required to be a lady first," said Mary Kaye Laban, active duty from 1958-59. "We had classes in how to curl our hair, put on lipstick and paint our nails. And the color, gosh, was it horrible."

Sitting near her, Gloria Wood laughed:

"Yeah, it was cherry snow or something and it didn't matter if the color looked good on you or not, your lips and nails matched," said the active duty Marine from 1958-59.

"And we had to carry a purse on our left shoulder and always had to keep these horrible gray gloves with us. To this day, I still carry my purse on my left shoulder and I can't carry it on my right."

Although women went through different recruit training than men and had their own companies, the role they played was an important one as they followed the famous recruiting poster and helped "Free a man to fight."

Today, the members of the WMA said women play a very important role in the day-to-day activity of the Marine Corps.

"Women are an integral part today, partly because they are much more qualified and receive better training and education before they join," said Laban. "Before we didn't do any field training at all and now all Marines do the same things and receive the same training."

Retired Master Sgt. Linda Vnuk agreed and said, "When I first came in [in 1963], women weren't expected to do much, and now women are doing the exact same thing [men are]. And, while requirements have changed, one thing that hasn't, and probably never will, is the spirit of women Marines."

The spirit Vnuk and all the past and present women Marines speak of lives on in the WMA.

For more information about the WMA, contact Treasurer Maria Knox at 228-7405.

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