American nurses read a newspaper cutting, probably at the US Army Base Hospital No. 4, attached to No 12 General Hospital of the BEF, situated at the Champs des Courses racecourse Rouen, June 1, 1917.

March is Women’s History Month in the United States and the United Kingdom. As part of our educational and memorial mission at the American Air Museum in Britain, we celebrate the women who served in and alongside the armed forces to fight for freedom from World War I to the present day.

Last month as part of our spotlight on Black History Month, we brought you the story of Evelyn Martin-Johnson, a mail handler in the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion. Today, we are bringing you the stories of three amazing women—one from WWI, one from WWII, and one from the 21st century. All of these women were instrumental to the war efforts, serving their country in myriad ways.

Helen Francis Shea 

World War I was the first war that allowed women to enlist in the armed forces, though many women helped their country in whatever ways they could.

Helen Francis Shea was a nurse with the American Red Cross during World War I. She helped dozens of soldiers recuperate from war wounds large and small at American hospitals in Angers and Paris. Like many nurses at the time, Helen juggled treating ailments as minor as the common cold and those as daunting as machine gun wounds to the jugular. She recounts her service in an audio recording available online.

Over 23,000 nurses enrolled in the American Red Cross Nursing Service during the war. Around 20,000 served on active duty with US forces between 1917 and 1919. These women contributed much to wartime efforts, and we owe them our eternal gratitude.

Virginia Irwin

During World War II, nearly 350,000 women served in the US Armed Forces at home and abroad, joining some nearly 640,000 women who volunteered to join the British Armed Forces. To support the war effort, women also flew aircraft, drove ambulances, and served as nurses, engineers, factory workers, and more.

Virginia Irwin (left) in Berlin, April 1945

Writer and reporter Virginia Irwin would be instrumental in breaking down barriers in wartime journalism. Covering war was still considered “men’s work” at the onset of World War II. At that time, Irwin was a feature writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and after her request to be sent abroad was denied, she joined the American Red Cross to travel to Britain and continue her quest to cover the stories of soldiers on the front lines.

After sending compelling tales of troops from Missouri back to the newspaper, in 1944 her editors reconsidered her request and made Irwin an official and accredited wartime correspondent.

Irwin’s biggest story came in 1945 when she and a group of fellow journalists broke through Russian lines to report on the chaos in Berlin just days before Hitler would commit suicide. Although military officials would hold her story until after Germany’s official surrender, her features became headline news across the US and earned her a bonus of one year’s salary.

Major Meghan Booze

Major Meghan Booze, 2015

F-15 pilot and US Air Force Major Meghan Booze stands on the shoulders of the women before her, and she’s passing on what she’s learned to the next generation. The AAM is proud to feature Major Booze in a display as part of our F-15A exhibit.

Booze joined the Air Force in 2010 and has logged more than 490 combat flight hours. In 2015 she was deployed from Lakenheath to support operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria with the 494th Fighter Squadron, and for six months she flew missions of 7+ hours, sometimes up to four times per week.

On being the only female pilot on the deployment, Meghan recalled:

For the deployment, I was the only female flight lead, so after a while all the tankers knew me, everybody knew me. So: Make sure you don’t say anything silly on the radio because they will remember it!

Today Major Booze is a mentor and instructor helping the next generation of new pilots and potential service members. She is blazing her own trail and maintaining the continuation of a legacy of women who have served and fought for their country.

The F-15A—similar to the F-15E that Major Booze piloted during her missions in Afghanistan—is on display at the American Air Museum.

During Women’s History Month and all year round at the American Air Museum we are proud to tell the stories of women who served and sacrificed. To learn more about these women and so many more, visit americanairmuseum.com.

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