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Memorial Day - 5 Black Women Veterans Who Made History



Celebrating Black Women Trailblazers on Memorial Day

You may have heard of Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, Madam C.J. Walker, and Shirley Chisholm. But have you heard of the many black women who also served in the U.S. Military and broke barriers while working on the front lines or providing support to U.S. soldiers and civilian employees?


Here are five amazing women who have made significant contributions to the US military.



Command Sgt. Maj. Mildred C. Kelly

Command Sgt. Maj. Mildred C. Kelly  in military uniform
Command Sgt. Maj. Mildred C. Kelly

Command Sgt. Maj. Kelly served in the U.S. Army from March 1947 to April 1976. Initially, Kelly pursued a career in chemistry after graduating from Knoxville College in Tennessee. She later became a high school teacher before eventually deciding to join the Army. In 1972, Kelly made history by becoming the first Black female sergeant major in the U.S. Army. Two years later, she achieved another milestone by becoming the first Black woman to hold the highest enlisted position at a major Army installation whose population was predominantly male. Even after her retirement, she served on various boards, including the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation, Maryland Veterans Commission, and Veterans Advisory Board.




Staff Sgt. Joyce B. Malone

Staff Sgt. Joyce B. Malone in military uniform
Staff Sgt. Joyce B. Malone

Staff Sgt. Malone served in the Marines and the Army Reserve. She enlisted in the Marines in 1958 and served for four years. After leaving the Marine Corps, Malone got married and finished college at Fayetteville State University. A few years later, while working at Fort Bragg, she joined the Army Reserve – Fort Bragg’s 82nd Airborne Division in 1971. At the age of 38, Malone made history in 1974 by becoming the first and oldest black woman to earn Airborne wings in the United States Army Reserve. She completed 15 parachute jumps during her time in the Army Reserve.







Brig. Gen. Hazel W. Johnson-Brown

Brig. Gen. Hazel W. Johnson-Brown in military uniform
Brig. Gen. Hazel W. Johnson-Brown

Gen. Johnson-Brown served in the U.S. Army from 1955 to 1983, receiving numerous awards and decorations. Johnson-Brown attended the Harlem School of Nursing and began her career at Harlem Hospital as an operating room nurse. In 1955, seven years after President Truman eliminated segregation in the military, she enlisted in the U.S. Army. Johnson-Brown served in various positions across the world, including Japan, where she trained nurses on their way to Vietnam. She made history in 1979 by becoming the first Black woman general officer to take charge of 7,000 nurses in the Army Nurse Corps.






Maj. Gen. Marcelite J. Harris

Maj. Gen. Marcelite J. Harris in military uniform
Maj. Gen. Marcelite J. Harris

Maj. Gen. Harris began her career serving in the Air Force in 1965 after completing Officer Training School at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. She was the first female aircraft maintenance officer, one of the first two female air officers commanding at the United States Air Force Academy, and the Air Force's first female director of maintenance. She also served as a White House social aide during the Carter administration. Harris received the Bronze Star, Presidential Unit Citation, and the Vietnam Service Medal among her many decorations and retired as a major general in 1997. She was the highest ranking female officer in the Air Force and the nation's highest ranking African-American woman in the Department of Defense.




Sgt. Danyell Wilson

Sgt. Danyell Wilson in military uniform at funeral
Sgt. Danyell Wilson

Sg.t Wilson became the first African-American woman to earn the prestigious Tomb Guard Badge when she became a sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknowns on January 22, 1997. She joined the U.S. Army in February 1993 as a military police officer in the MP Company, 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard). Wilson completed rigorous training and became part of the Honor Guard Company of The Old Guard. After receiving the silver emblem, she said she was glad the training was over and felt honored to be the first African-American woman to earn it.






These women paved the way for future generations of female military personnel and Black women have served and continue to serve in the US military. Their stories should inspire us to appreciate the sacrifices and contributions of those who have served, are serving, or will serve their country.


 

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