BLAKELY, Penn. (NNS) -- Sailors and distinguished guests honored the life and legacy of the Navy's first female chief petty officer (CPO) during a wreath laying and rededication ceremony at St. Patrick's Cemetery in Blakely, Penn., April 2.
Navy Operational Support Center (NOSC) Avoca hosted the ceremony to pay tribute to Loretta Perfectus Walsh who was also the first woman to enlist on active duty in the U.S. Navy. She was the first Yeoman F, or "Yeomanette," to enlist in World War I.
"We couldn't pick a better day to honor Chief Walsh's contributions," said Lt. Ronald Fauntleroy, NOSC Avoca commanding officer. "Last month was Women's History Month and yesterday was the 118th birthday for Navy Chiefs. Almost 94 years ago, on March 17, 1917, Loretta Walsh became the first woman to enlist in the Navy. In addition, she was the first female chief. Please take a moment to consider the historic gravity of her enlisted service. She volunteered to serve her country at a time when she wasn't even allowed to vote."
Walsh, like many Americans, had hopes and aspirations to achieve her highest potential. When a fair chance to enlist was presented, she was the first in line.
Now, almost a century after her historic enlistment, there are more than 62,000 women serving in the Navy. Today, nearly every Naval community is open to women, who make vital contributions ashore and afloat. Although long and arduous, the progress for women in the Navy has been persistent and progressive.
Twenty five years after Walsh's enlistment, the Navy commissioned its first female officer; by 1974, the first Navy woman earned her gold wings in Naval Aviation. In 1980, the first class of women graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. By 1990, the first female commanding officer was assigned to command a ship. In 2010, Rear Adm. Nora W. Tyson became the first female to command a carrier strike group.
"This is the legacy that Loretta Perfectus Walsh leaves behind," Fauntleroy said. "She was a pioneer who led the way for many generations of women to follow. It is both a privilege and an honor to recognize her service and the high standards of the Navy that she's lived up to."
Following Fauntleroy's comments, Navy Reservist Lt. Cmdr. Jeanette Bederman laid three roses on the gravesite of Walsh. Each rose represented a Navy core value; honor, courage and commitment.
The keynote speaker for the ceremony was Senior Chief Yeoman (EXW) Joann Barnes, assigned to the Third Navy Expeditionary Logistics Regiment, Fort Dix, N.J.
"Loretta is a role model," Barnes said. "She was the first. She paved the way for the Yeomanettes. She paved the way for women in the Navy. Loretta is the prime example of what you can do when you set your mind."
Tina Conti-Donovan, the great-grand-niece of Walsh, thanked the members of NOSC Avoca for organizing the ceremony. She said she was overwhelmed by the hospitality shown to her and her family by the Navy.
"It is hard to express how grateful we are to all those within the Navy who have worked to ensure that Loretta's achievements are not forgotten," Conti-Donovan said.
She spoke on behalf of her family, saying they wish for Walsh to always be a person that men and women will look to as a source of pride and strength. She also commented on a dream catcher that was put on Walsh's grave. No one is certain where the memento came from, but it will remain on the grave.
"When we arrived here this morning, my father and I had approached her grave, and I was overtaken by seeing a dream catcher on her gravestone," she said. "I don't know who brought that here, but to me it is a striking symbol and metaphor for Loretta. I think she would be so proud to know that she is someone that women look to with their dreams."
Prior to the ceremony, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (SS/SW) Rick D. West sent a letter to the NOSC Avoca CPO mess to thank them for their unwavering support to keep the memory of Walsh alive.
"I am impressed by the efforts of the chief petty officers of NOSC Avoca to commemorate Loretta's accomplishments," West's letter read. "They are a dedicated group of senior enlisted leaders and are committed to incorporating her inspirational example into their program for developing future chiefs. Again, thank you for supporting Loretta's achievements, and your efforts to keep them invigorated for future generations of Sailors. You can be justifiably proud of her and her remarkable accomplishments."
NOSC Avoca Sailors, Walsh family members, the Olyphant and Dickson City American Legion and Friends of the Forgotten participated in the ceremony. The ceremony consisted of the laying of a ceremonial wreath, the playing of taps, a rifle salute by the American Legion and the presentation of the National Ensign to the Walsh Family. The NOSC Avoca CPO mess has committed themselves to continually up keep and maintain the memorial to preserve Walsh's memory.
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