Women military veterans reunite, remember
Copyright 1997-2001 Pensacola News Journal
They might not have stormed the beaches at Normandy, but as far back as World War II, and certainly since, women have played a vital role in the military. The Fifth Annual All Women Veteran's Recognition Luncheon reunited women whose ranks ran the gamut from enlisted personnel to rear admirals.
The assembled crowd spanned three generations, all with stories to tell and many expressing gratitude over their military experiences.
Jennifer McLendon, 20, was in the color guard that preceded the luncheon. The Broken Arrow, Okla., native is as far as she's ever been from home, training to become an aviation electrician's mate. "I don't want to be 40 and wake up and feel like I haven't done anything," she said. "I want to see everything, to go everywhere. I want to be able to say that I've been to Japan, I've been to Germany, and when I'm 25, not retired. It's really exciting to hear the different stories of these women, and it's promising to think that I'll have some of those experiences, too." To hear the veterans tell it, McLendon has much to anticipate.
"It was wonderful," said Mary C. Hirschfeldt, 80, of her 14 months in the Navy during World War II. "For the first time, I really felt like an American and not just an Alabamian." At boot camp in New York City, Hirschfeldt grew beyond her provincial youth and made fast friends with women from all over the nation. Her first experience in an airplane was with a group of female parachute riggers under her care at Daytona Beach Air Force Base. One woman's job brought her into close contact with the top brass of many government agencies.
Mary Ann Vodinelich, 70, was stationed as an assistant projectionist in Washington during the Korean War. She screened a film for the surgeon general on battlefield injuries and the ways to treat them -
under what conditions a limb should be amputated before the patient gets to a field hospital, for instance. She retired as an assistant dental technician in 1971.
"Girls today have a lot more leeway than we did when I was young, and I kind of envy them," Vodinelich said. "But I wouldn't trade my experiences for anything - I regret nothing."
Barbara L. Turner, Florida director of WAVES - Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service - said Saturday's luncheon was the best attended so far. She chose a different entertainment for this year's luncheon. "We try to shake it up a bit," Turner said of replacing a keynote speaker with a fashion show. "Speakers year after year get boring, and some of these ladies' hearing is fading."
Rear Admiral (retired) Joan Engel shared the honors of cutting the cake for the Northwest Florida 5th Annual All Women Veterans Recognition Luncheon with Airman Recruit Jennifer McLendon Saturday at the Mustin Beach Officers Club.