Awards honor recipients, namesakes

The Navy is currently accepting nominations for the 2019 Capt. Joy Bright Hancock and Master Chief Anna Der-Vartanian Leadership Awards. 

The awards include five categories:

Senior officer – O-4 to O-6
Junior office – O-1 to O-3
Chief warrant officer and limited duty officer – CWO2 – O-3E
Senior enlisted – E-7 to E-9
Junior enlisted – E-5 and E-6

The nominations are not limited to just women.

However, I want to post today about awards that are named after military women. Later in the post, it will be clear why I put “military” in front of women instead of awards.

I also wish I could have found more than three. So, if you see any that I missed after reading this post, please comment and let me know, and I will go back and and those well-deserving women to this post.

The one I’ll talk about other than those mentioned above will be Dr. Mary Edwards Walker. 

Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, the only female Medal of Honor recipient

 I will start with Capt. Joy Bright Hancock. Hancock worked as a yeoman in the Navy during World War I. Following the war, she worked at the Bureau of Aeronautics, where she started “Naval Aviation News” magazine and overcame her fear of flying by learning to fly herself.

During World War II, she served as the liaison officer between the Bureau of Aeronautics and the WAVES or “Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.” At that time, all WAVES were Reservists. She convinced the bureau’s leadership to make use of the qualified WAVES for aeronautics. More than 20 percent of them worked in the aviation community and did all types of work from aviation mechanic to air traffic controller.

One of the things I found most interesting was that, although women could not fly on the are front, they did help train most Navy pilots during the war.

In February 1946, Hancock became the director of the WAVES. Two years later, thanks in part to her hard work, the Women Armed Services Integration Act of 1948 created a permanent place for women in the military, even during peace time. Of course, she was sworn into the regular Navy that same year with five other women. 

The article on Navy.mil says “Nominees should be mature leaders who have shown exceptional leadership over the span of their career and have persevered to overcome challenges while serving.  They should have demonstrated inspirational and innovative leadership, both on and off-duty, as well as professional accomplishments and community involvement.”

The award is presented along with the Master Chief Anna Der-Vartanian Leadership award at the Joint Women’s Leadership Symposium. Most likely, the awards are presented together because of the chief warrant officer and limited duty officer categories, which combine both enlisted and officer leadership.

Master Chief Anna Der-Vartanian, the first woman to reach the rank of E-9 across the military services.

Der-Vartanian was the first female master chief petty officer. Not only was she the first E-9 in the Navy, she was the first in any of the services.

Der-Vartanian joined the Navy in 1943. Doing primarily clerical and administrative work, she was promoted to Chief yeoman in 1946. Between then and 1959, she served in Pensacola, Florida; Pearl Harbor; Lakehurst, N.J.; and Boston. 

Der-Vartanian received her promotion to master chief petty officer in 1959 while at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. Marking the historic occasion, she received a personal letter of congratulations from President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

She spent four more years in the Navy, and retired in July 1963.

The end to her Navy career was not an end to her breaking the glass ceiling. Der-Vartanian joined the CIA as a junior analyst and eventually moved up to counterintelligence specialist. In 1991, she retired from the CIA and came back as a contract employee, where she remained until 2007.. 

Der-Vartanian did have to make a sacrifice in order to have such a career at that time. In the ’40s, women would have to leave the service if they ever had children. So, she never had a family.

So, the reason I chose to say military women instead of military awards is because of the Dr. Mary E. Walker Awards. I found two different awards named for this fine woman. One of them is given by The Association of the United States Army. It seems to be for volunteer work.

The other is given by the American College of Surgeons. Its full name is 
The Dr. Mary Edwards Walker Inspiring Women in Surgery Award. 

Neither award is specifically for military members, although they can receive them as well, if they meet the rest of the criteria for each award.

The reason for naming the awards after Dr. Mary E. Walker is clear once you know a little more about her.

Walker went to Washington, D.C., in 1861 to apply to be an Army Surgeon during the Civil War. Of course, she was given a negative. Being strong-willed, Walker became an unpaid volunteer in various camps, and eventually served as an unpaid assistant surgeon at a converted hospital.

Walker continued to demand to be made a surgeon and received abuse for doing so. However, she did get respect for her good work. She did begin to wear modified male attire, though she still wore a skirt over her trousers and had long hair. 

In November 1862, she became a field surgeon in Virginia, though still on a volunteer basis. She treated the wounded at Warrenton and in Fredericksburg in December 1962. 

Eventually in September 1863, she was appointed as an assistant surgeon in the Army of the Cumberland after the Battle of Chickamauga. Many stories were told of her bravery under fire. But, in April 1964, Confederate troops captured her. They charged her with being a spy, and she spent four months in various prisons, where she faced abuse for being unladylike.

Even after being freed, she continued to ask to be returned to the field, but spent the rest of the war as superintendent at a female prison hospital and an orphanage.

After the war, her government contract was over. Walker lobbied for a promotion for her service, but the Secretary of War denied it. So, President Andrew Johnson ensured she was given a medal of honor to recognize her service in January 1866. 

Of course, Walker was active in the women’s rights movement. The unusual way she looked at things was that there was no need for suffrage, since women already had the right to vote, since they were American citizens.

As I’ve said in previous posts, when the time comes that there are no longer “the first female to…” stories and women are treated equal to men when talking about rights, I will no longer have a blog. Until then, I’ll be here to tell their stories.

Sadly in 1916, Congress revised the Medal of Honor standards to include only actual combat with an enemy. In 1917, the Board of Medal Awards stripped Walker and another 910 recipients of their awards.

Nearly 60 years after her death, the Army Board for Correction of Military Records reviewed the case. In June 1977, Walker’s award was restored. She  remains the sole female recipient of the Medal of Honor.

Because of all of their contributions, I think it is very important that leaders continue to recognize their Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines for their accomplishments. It honors the recipients of the awards, and the awards’ namesakes. 


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