WASHINGTON (NNS) -- The Old Post Chapel on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall was filled to capacity Nov. 29 as representatives from the Washington D.C. Chief's Mess paid tribute to the Navy's first female master chief petty officer.
Retired Master Chief Petty Officer Anna Der-Vartanian died Aug. 4 at the age of 90 and was laid to rest with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery amid a crowd of hundreds of Sailors, family, and friends who came to honor one of first women to shatter the glass ceiling for enlisted women in the Navy.
"To her dying day, she never, ever stopped serving," said retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught.
The interment was followed by a reception at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial, including speeches by Der-Vartanian's family and close friends. Der-Vartanian's original WAVES cover, cast in bronze, was unveiled for its permanent display at the United States Navy Memorial on behalf of the members of Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) National. A shadowbox highlighting her numerous career accomplishments was also presented on behalf of the National Capitol Region Chief's Mess.
"There are so many men, and all my counterparts are male where I work," said Chief Christine Cots, the senior enlisted advisor at the U.S. Naval Academy. "I might have one or two females, but not anybody that has been around very long. It's very interesting to have these kind of trailblazers and to be able to celebrate them."
"She broke a glass ceiling, she really did," said Nancy Hueper Hoke. Hoke met Der-Vartanian when Der-Vartanian joined the CIA after retiring from the Navy. The two remained close friends for the rest of Der-Vartanian's life.
"In the early days we never heard about her rank, and then it was only in the last three or four years that she began talking about it and we realized, 'Oh my goodness, she really did accomplish a lot,'" said Hoke.
A native of Detroit, Mich., Der-Vartanian joined the Navy in December 1943. She began her career with several clerical and administrative positions in Washington, D.C., Great Lakes, Ill., and San Francisco, Calif. In 1946, she was promoted to chief yeoman.
In 1949, Der-Vartanian accepted a supervisor position at the Naval Air Training Command in Pensacola, Florida. She moved on to serve as the public information officer for Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and then served in the Personnel Office of Parachute Rigger and Aerograph Schools at Lakehurst, N.J. In 1957 Der-Vartanian moved to Boston, Mass. to serve at the Public Information Office, where she remained until 1959.
In 1959, while serving as assistant to the Global Strategy Officer at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., Der-Vartanian received her promotion to master chief petty officer. With that promotion, she made history as the first women in the Armed Services to be promoted to the rank of E-9. Noting the historic occasion, she received a personal letter from then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower congratulating her on her accomplishment.
She went on to serve as the chief clerk of the Office of the United States Military Representative at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), located near Paris, France from 1960 until 1962. She returned to the United States in 1962 and was assigned to the Legal Office Naval Station, Washington, D.C.
Der-Vartanian retired from the Navy July 16, 1963. Following her retirement, she joined the Central Intelligence Agency as a junior analyst and later became a counterintelligence specialist. In 1991 she retired from the Central Intelligence Agency but later returned as a contract employee, where she remained until 2007.
"Despite her numerous career accolades, one significant sacrifice isn't noted in Der-Vartanians biography - her choice to never have a family," said Chief Jessica Myers, senior enlisted advisor to the Office of Women's Policy. "When Der-Vartanian first joined the Navy in the forties, women were not permitted to remain serving in uniform after having children."
"I'm very proud to see the model that she laid down for people to follow," said Hoke. "They couldn't have a better mentor or a model to follow as far as her patriotism, her dedication to work, her dedication to the Navy. She was a very moral and ethical person, which came through in her work and her commitment to her work and to the Navy. The Navy was her first love."
Der-Vartanian's commitment to her country and the example she provided to women in uniform today was repeated over and over in the stories shared at her service.
Cots took the opportunity to use Der-Vartanian's memorial as a teachable moment for some of the younger sailors she brought to the ceremony. "If she could do this back in the fifties, it can be done today," said Cots. Pulling aside a seaman, she pointed to Der Vartanian's photo and said, "That is going to be you in ten to twenty years."
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