A Lot of Good Men
Veterans day is Saturday, and it appears we might be going to war with North Korea soon (HAHAHAHAHA…*sobs quietly*). Historically, war is a man’s game. When I think of the World Wars and the American Revolution, I think men. When I see army commercials
on TV, I hear brotherhood. It wasn’t until May that a recruitment ad focused on a woman in combat. Despite the omnipresence of men as the typical war hero, women have always, always fought. Heck, Lady Liberty herself has led more people into battle than any one man can claim.
Therefore, on the brink of yet another battle, I’d like to remember a few war figures often overlooked, not for their accomplishments, but for *ahem,* what equipment they are packing.
Real Life Wonder Women
You know that scene in Wonder Woman (2017) where Gal Gadot climbs the ladder into No Man’s Land and just totally destroys everyone and everything in her way? Yea, these women are kind of like that—except half of them didn’t bother changing first.
The Hai Ba Trung
Trung Trắc and Trung Nhị are Vietnamese legends. During their childhood (sometime around AD 12), they trained extensively in martial arts and warfare. Around 40 AD, the Chinese executed Thi Sách, Trung Trắc’s husband, after he led a rebellion against the cruelty of the rulers. In response, the Trung sisters took up the cause. With their army of some 80,000 fighters (mostly women), the Hai Ba Trung led the first resistance against nearly 250 years of Chinese occupation. Today, they are a symbol of Vietnamese independence. Many temples and statues feature them prominently atop mighty war elephants. Local villages hold festivals in their honor, with two women chosen to portray the Hai Ba Trung.
During the Battle of Fort Washington during the American Revolution, while General George Washington was getting his butt whooped by the British, one woman remained on the battle field. Margaret Cochran Corbin (“Captain Molly” as she was known) watched her husband die and immediately took his place at his cannon. She fired at her enemies for hours until an opposing shot nearly severed her left arm. Margaret appealed to the government for
aid and became the first woman awarded a veteran’s pension. In honor of her bravery, she received half the pension of a male soldier and a new suit of clothes.
Cathay Williams, aka William Cathay, was a private in the 38th U.S. Infantry Regiment during the Civil War. She cemented her place in history as the first black woman to enlist in the Army, successfully posing as a man. Although she was a slave and suffered numerous health complications, she served for two years before someone discovered her true identity. A Leavenworth, Kansas, museum recently unveiled a monument dedicated to Cathay, acknowledging her status as a pioneer for black women in America.
Reportedly the most-decorated female soldier in military history, Milunka Savić impersonated her brother during the Balkan Wars. After a grenade injured her during battle, the truth came out. However, the commanding officer was reluctant to punish such a skilled soldier. When told he would give her an answer the following day, Savić stood firmly in front of the officer and simply said “I will wait.” She only waited an hour before being sent back to the infantry. During WWI, she charged across No Man’s Land and single-handedly assaulted an Austrian trench, causing all 20 soldiers to surrender. She also captured over 20 Bulgarian soldiers by herself, caught shrapnel in the head, and schooled a sexist French officer. He bet her a case of Cognac that she couldn’t hit a bottle with a hand grenade 131 feet away. She could.
100 years ago, Mata Hari left this world blowing a kiss to the men who killed her. To movie buffs, she’s the origin of the femme fetale character: a double-agent who used her sensuality to seduce secrets out of powerful men. But in reality, she was Margaretha Geertruida MacLeod, an exotic dancer recruited by both sides in WWI. However, she wasn’t very good at her job. Mata Hari was a courtesan when the Deuxième Bureau first approached her. They wanted her to obtain classified information from the Crown Prince Wilhelm. Meanwhile, a German general had also recruited her to counter-spy on the French. Neither side received anything but gossip on the oppositions’ sex lives. Germany finally exposed her secret identity as agent H-21. A French firing squad executed her, and her embalmed remains—sent to the Museum of Anatomy in Paris—have been missing since the 1950s.
Flora joined the Serbian Red Cross during World War I. She advanced to the rank of sergeant-major in the Serbian army, quickly gaining respect from her fellow male soldiers. Well-known for sitting around with her soldiers, smoking and playing cards, she was addressed as “brother” by those who fought with her. Flora earned the Order of the Star of Karađorđe, the highest Serbian decoration, after she was wounded by a grenade in hand-to-hand combat. Even after the war ended, Flora continued to fight. She was quoted as saying “I never loved anything so much in my life” as soldiering.
I’m a big fan of anything witchy, and these teens and twenty-somethings took the trope to new heights. Russian women are no strangers to war. The Battalion of Death made deserting male soldiers ashamed of their sex in WWI. Later, the WWII Night Witches sent fear into the Nazis who met them in the skies. This group of female pilots only flew at night, piloting planes that were made out of plywood and canvas. Wearing secondhand uniforms from the men, each lady completed at least 8 missions a night. The regiment’s primary objective was bombing the German forces, who found their planes difficult to shoot down. The Germans learned that the noise of the Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes, which they likened to a witch’s broomstick, meant they were in for a rough night.
The Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps
All the women of the WAAC (later, simply the WAC) are heroes, but special attention must be paid to the 40 black women who entered Fort Des Moines in the summer of 1942. After fighting tooth and
nail for their chance to aid the war effort, these women trained to operate switchboards, drive convoy vehicles, and maintain army tanks, on top of a dozen other specialized fields. Many went on to accomplish remarkable feats for black history. Charity Adams Earley, the first black woman in the WAAC, advanced to the rank of Lt. Colonel and commanded the first battalion of black women to serve overseas. Hulda Defreese drew contour maps for soldiers training at Fort Huachuca. Sammie M. Rice sailed abroad as part of the first group of black nurses.