Women Veterans' Stories of Service: Brigadier General Wilma Vaught

Uploaded by VeteransHealthAdmin on 04.11.2011

Iím retired Brigadier General Wilma Vaught, Air Force,
and Iím president of the Women in Military Service Memorial Foundation.
I went in the Air Force in 1957 which was after Korea and before the Vietnam War.
When I went through training, we didnít learn how to fire weapons.
Women didnít do that. We went through a course on how to put on lipstick and powder
and how to get in and out of a car tastefully. I was one of very few women,
military women, I think other than the nurses in Spain, uh, there were, like,
six of us and for a long time I was the only officer. I always felt it was one
of those things that when I did good I got more credit probably than I deserved.
Now if I had not done well it wouldíve been bad and it was very much on my mind
that I had to succeed so that other women would have an opportunity to be assigned
to the places I had been assigned and do some of the things I had done.
The biggest barrier had to do with limits put in the Armed Services
Integration Act of 1948 that said that women that could not be generals or admirals
and limited the number who could beónot promotedóbut appointed as colonels or captains,
which meant that in the Air Force, there could be only two colonels:
one the Director of Women in the Air Force and the second one the
Chief of the Air Force Nurse Corps. That was there ítil 1967 when that law was changed
during the Vietnam War so that they could recruit more women because of the
opposition to the conflict and this could relieve some of the pressure on the draft.
Öand there was also a limit to the number of women who could serve at two percent
of the number in the armed forces and when I came in the Air Force in 1957,
we were at seven-tenths of a percent, and let me tell ya, thatís not a
critical mass so if you started thinking about how you wanted to change things,
you had to think, gee, they may decide to get rid of all of us rather than
to make these changes. Language in that Act said that women could not serve in
combat so we were very limited to being assigned to jobs in the medical field or
the administrative field. You know I think that the greatest antagonism that we
encountered was probably when they opened the flight line to women.
There was real opposition to that and the men out there did everything they
could to make it difficult for those first women. It was tough.
The wing commander asked me to accompany the bomb wing when it deployed to Guam
in support of the bombing of North Vietnam. I went over on a KC-135
that was loaded with equipment. In fact, it was one of the last tankers taking
equipment and I spent six months there working for the wing commander as a
management analyst. And I was the first women ever to deploy on a
Strategic Air Command deployment so there were three thousand and
some men in the unit and me. I thought that was about the right mix.
I spent a year in Saigon. I was assigned to the MACV, the headquarters,
and I worked in management analysis there, but I just had that feeling,
hey, youíre not going to come back alive. And, uh, and it was kind of an
interesting thing because I didnít share that feeling with anybody and when
I came back, uh, one of our, a very, very close friend who was an elderly
person and she was telling me,
she said, ""I prayed for you every day while you were there.""
And I said, ""Well I thank you."" I said, ""You know, I can tell you now,
but I didnít think I would come back."" And she said, ""I knew that."
A couple times rockets came within about a block and a half.
I remember the first time, uh, I was in my quarters, which was a hotel in
downtown Saigon about a block and a half from the central market,
which was a frequent target. There were rockets went in there.
It was about 5:30 in the morning so I was going to take the elevator
up to the top of the hotel we lived in and see what was happening.
I heard a friend knock on the door and she said, ""What are you doing?""
And I said, ""Iím getting ready to go up to the top."" She said,
Thatís what I knew youíd be doing and I came to keep you from it.
I found out that I would be assigned to the comptroller office
in management analysis at the Pentagon. I ended up there for four
and a half years. And then I spent four and a half years at
Andrews Air Force Base and that was when I was selected for
brigadier general and I moved from being the director of budget to
becoming a comptroller for Air Force Systems Command. And then from
there I went to becoming the commander of the United States Military
Entrance Processing Command. We were responsible for processing all
of the recruits coming in to all of the services, giving them their
ASVAB tests, giving them their physicals, sending them to where they
were going for training and administering the oath of enlistment to them.
So I gave countless oaths of enlistment during my period of time.
All through my career, even through my last assignment,
I would arrive and after about two or three months there would be
people coming up to me that would say, ""Well when I heard you were coming
I wanted to be reassigned because I didnít want to work for a woman.
But I just want you to know, I donít feel that way anymore.
I would work for you anyplace."" And it was so funny because here after,
you know, I had been in the service for twenty-some years and I got assigned
as the commander of the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command,
I got there and one of the first things I learned was that the secretary
was either going to retire or leave government service because
she didnít want to work for a woman. So I talked to her and I said,
Tina, you know, give me one week and if you want to leave at the
end of the week, you know, Iíll help you find another job.
Well at the end of the week she decided that, uh,
that she would stay and work for me and she became a close friend.
Somebody knew that I had retired and was back in the Washington D.C.
area and asked me to serve on the board of directors and I didnít intend
to do anything other than serve on the board of directors and I missed a
meeting and was elected president. And thatís whenÖ thatís when I got very
interested in this thing, and as, but I went through a period of time of
wondering whether this was the right thing to do, because we had worked so
hard to be integrated, to be accepted as full-fledged military members,
and here weíre taking a step to set women apart.
Was that the right thing to do?
But as I traveled around the country and talked,
particularly to women who had served in World War II,
it became obvious to me that this was something we should do.
This is a part of our history as being women.
These are things that women have done, that they have accomplished.
Here are barriers that we have overcome. These are women who had
certain aspirations that they were able to realize, like the women
who were in the Women Airforce Service Pilots in World War II who
just were so inspired not only to serve their country,
because they were certainly patriots, but they wanted to fly,
and this was a great opportunity for them. And for other women,
itís other things. It may be working in communications,
it may be working in ordnance, and, of course, for years the
primary role of women was as nurses. Itís just a history that
needs to be recorded and told and it wasnít being recorded,
the memorabilia wasnít being collected, and now it is.
And itíll be here, hopefully, for all time.