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Women Marines Celebrate Their Legacy, Reflect on Their Changing Roles

Woman Marine from the 1940s
US Marine Corps
Woman Marine from the 1940s

This past weekend, nearly 400 women from around the country gathered for a memorial service to recognize fellow female Marines who lost their lives within the past two years in Iraq and Afghanistan. Women Marines dating back as far as World War I were there. These are the women who laid the foundation for today's female military population, whose roles during war have changed so dramatically.

Major Shawn Haley, who works as a Marine Corps public affairs officer, tells me that being a woman in the Marines now is very different than it was in prior wars.

"It's all front-line now. You can get wounded almost anywhere," says Haley, who did a tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2007, during which she had plenty of close calls. "I saw a lot of of attacks and explosions during our convoys out to the villages," she says.


Back in the day, Haley adds, "female Marines were just as brave and strong as we are, but they were not placed in situations that we are placed in now, they typically were not in combat zones, they were back in relatively safe areas like the hospitals and such. But in this war, well, virtually everywhere is a combat zone, and women are there right alongside the men. It's a different world now, and this is a different war."

Despite the unprecedented dangers women now face in the Marines, the recruiting numbers have remained pretty steady, says Haley, who notes that there are now 13,409 active duty female Marines (the total number of active duty Marines is 201,922). "The number of female Marines percentage-wise have remained pretty steady over the past decade or so, between 5 and 6 percent," Haley says.

As a part of the biennial Women Marines Association convention, women gathered at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Downtown Denver to honor their fallen friends. The convention brought together women to promote the history and traditions of women in the Marine Corps from World War I to the present.

"I can't tell you exactly why, but it's moving to me," Marge Alexander, who served in a motor transport unit in California during her time as a Marine in World War II, told KUSA TV in Colorado. "When they read the names, you know some of them."

The crowd, filled with World War II veterans to those currently serving in Afghanistan, sang, prayed and listened to the names of Marines who've died. The memorial service is held every two years. This year, the Women Marines Association is marking its 50th anniversary. The convention featured the largest exhibit of women Marine memorabilia in the world. For more information about the Women Marines Association, you can visit their website.