By Danielle DeSimone
Throughout history, women have fought hard to serve this nation. Overcoming years of inequality and challenges, women in the military and the women who have supported our nation’s Armed Forces have always been ready to do what is necessary for their country.
Here are the stories of three trailblazing women in the military and women of the USO who have fought to make a difference.
Army Col. Ruby Bradley
Ruby Bradley enlisted in the Army at a time when women fully serving in the military was relatively new, but she would retire as one of the most decorated women in U.S. military history.
At the onset of World War II, Bradley joined the U.S. Army Nurse Corps as a surgical nurse and served as a hospital administrator at Camp John Hay in the Philippines. However, only three weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Bradley was taken prisoner by the Japanese Army. She was interned, along with other prisoners of war (POWs), to the Santo Tomas Internment Camp in Manila.
Imprisonment did nothing to deter Bradley from her duties as an Army nurse. Throughout her 37 months in captivity, Bradley worked on 230 major surgeries and delivered 13 babies.
She provided medical attention to other prisoners, smuggled food to those who needed it and often went hungry to make sure others didn’t. In fact, Bradley lost so much weight while imprisoned that she was able to smuggle outdated medical equipment and supplies into the camp by hiding them under her clothes without raising suspicion. By the time the camp was liberated in February 1945, Bradley weighed only 84 pounds, as she had given most of her daily rations to the children in the camp. The other POWs called Bradley and her fellow nurses “Angels in Fatigues.”
After WWII, Bradley continued her career in the Army and earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California, just four years after the end of the war. She would go on to serve a total of 30 years in the military, including service in the Korean War. She was eventually promoted to the rank of colonel – only the third woman to achieve the rank at that time – before retiring in 1963. Throughout her career she received 34 decorations, medals and awards, including the Bronze Star Medal.
Army “Gen.” Harriet Tubman
Today, Harriet Tubman is known best for her incredibly brave and dangerous efforts as a conductor of the Underground Railroad during the Civil War; she rescued over 300 enslaved people and personally escorted them to freedom as great personal risk.
However, the abolitionist was also a Union Army nurse, scout, spy and the first woman in American history to lead a military assault. Tubman’s work as a scout and spy for the Union Army during the Civil War provided the military with crucial information on the movements, personnel and strongholds of the Confederate army, leading to several successful captures of cities in the south.
Her role as a military assault leader wouldn’t come until June 1863, when she joined the Union Army for the Combahee River Raid in South Carolina.
That month, the Union Army wanted to raid plantations up the Combahee River, destroying Confederate strongholds as well as liberating enslaved people, who might then join the Union cause. So, Tubman accompanied 150 Black troops from the 2nd South Carolina Infantry Regiment, along with their white commanding officers, up the river. Based on the intel she had gathered from connections in the area, Tubman was able to guide Union ships past several treacherous, floating explosive mines, planted by Confederates just below the surface of the water.
As the ships made their way up the river, the soldiers confiscated supplies, burned buildings on the plantation’s properties and safely escorted escaped enslaved people to the Union ships, all while coming under Confederate fire. Through it all, Tubman calmly led the ships to these enslaved hideouts, bringing even more people onboard while also directing the ships past the underwater torpedoes. More than 750 enslaved people would be freed that night, and approximately 100 of them would go on to serve in the Union Army.
Union Army commanders at the time kept Tubman’s name out of official military records of the events that went on in June 1863, but her legacy remains. Interestingly, her nickname of “General Tubman,” came not from her military accomplishments, but from abolitionist John Brown, who referred to her as such because of her fearless work freeing enslaved people throughout the American south. When Tubman passed away at age 91 in 1913, she was buried with full military honors.
USO Assistant Director Patricia Krause
Approximately 2,700,000 Americans served in the Vietnam War and around 11,000 of them were women – most of them volunteer nurses.
The Vietnam War was a daunting and complex conflict. The stakes were high, the losses were great and societal attitudes about traditional gender roles were evolving. This, combined with the fact that women fully serving in the military was still a relatively new concept, made a deployed military environment a challenging space for women to be in at the time.
It was during the Vietnam War that the USO opened its first brick-and-mortar USO centers in combat zones, with 17 centers in Vietnam and six in Thailand. Many of these USO centers were staffed by civilian female volunteers who had left home themselves to provide a morale boost to troops serving under high-stress conditions.
One of those civilian women was Patricia Krause, who became a USO legend for her unfailing dedication to supporting troops serving in the war.
As the assistant director of USO Saigon, the home base for all USO Vietnam and Thailand operations, as well as the director of public information for the entirety of USO Vietnam, Krause spent three years living and working in-country on behalf of the USO. During her time there, Krause was fearless. Accompanied by military escorts, she would travel straight to the front lines and remote locations to deliver care packages of food and toiletries to service members.
She assisted in bringing celebrities and USO entertainment to troops overseas and was also the host of the popular Armed Forces Radio Saigon Program “What’s New at the USO?” On the show, Krause started a segment called “USO Mail Call” in which she read letters from families who wanted to write to service members, as well as from individuals and groups expressing admiration and support to the troops. This segment of the radio show was an excellent example of how – even in the midst of a war far from home – the USO and its staff were determined to keep service members connected to loved ones back home.
Krause, who was a military widow and formerly a member of the Women’s Navy Reserve Officer Corps, threw herself into whatever task necessary to improve the lives of service members deployed to Vietnam. Her work was so significant that she was awarded with the Certificate of Achievement from the director of Armed Forces Radio Vietnam, as well as the special distinction of being made an honorary Green Beret as a thank you for the effort she had made to visit Special Forces soldiers at forward operating bases and outposts.
In 1968, Army Gen. Creighton W. Abrams awarded Krause a medal and citation for her service in Vietnam, and one year later, Army Brig. Gen. Leo Benade presented her with the U.S. Civilian Service in Vietnam Medal. President Lyndon B. Johnson even met with Krause and thanked her personally for her work during the war.
Even after she returned to the United States, Krause remained committed to serving the members of our Armed Forces. She became assistant director of public relations for the then-USO National Headquarters in New York City and would later continue her career caring for others by working for the Red Cross. Her work continues to be a shining legacy at the USO.
-This story was originally published on USO.org in 2021. It has been updated in 2022.
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Every day, America’s service members selflessly put their lives on the line to keep us safe and free. Please take a moment to let our troops know how much we appreciate their service and sacrifice.