NORFOLK (NNS) -- The beginning of the 20th century marked a period of historical achievement for women.
Policies were established which allowed Loretta Walsh and thousands of other women to become the first women to enlist in the United States military. This paved the way for many more firsts for women in the Navy.
Mildred H. McAfee served during World War II as the first director of the Women Accepted for Volunteer Services (WAVES) in the U.S. Navy. She became the first woman to be commissioned in the U.S. Naval Reserve.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the authorizing legislation into law, July 30, 1942, which resulted in the creation of the Women's Reserve (WR). McAfee was commissioned the following week, Aug. 3, 1942.
McAfee campaigned for WAVES to have the same pay and benefits as their male counterparts. In November 1943, these efforts resulted in Public Law 183, which entitled all WR personnel the allowances and benefits available to men.
"These women stand out as role models," said Senior Chief Aviation Electronics Technician Dustin Simmons. "I don't think they're role models for just women, they're role models for everyone. They serve as an example that the only limitations are those you put on yourself. You can achieve anything if you put forth the effort."
In terms of equality, the military has come a long way, said Simmons.
Having succeeded in advocating for the integration of women of color into the U.S. Naval Reserve Officer Corps, McAfee also enabled them to serve in many areas and capacities while their male counterparts were limited to serving as cooks and bakers. She ensured women of color would be assigned as officers in various companies and treated like any other of the WAVES.
During the peak of World War II, McAfee commanded 82,000 women.
After resigning from the Naval Reserve at the end of the war, she became the first woman to receive the Navy Distinguished Service Medal. She also received the American Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.
"Since that moment when women were allowed to serve, our military became stronger," said Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Rashad Beamon. "Looking at the brave women who became WAVES, women have always been a large factor in the greatness that is our country's military."
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