Women’s History Month: Women in the role of unsung heroes

It’s pretty easy today to get caught up in all the headlines of how today’s women can do just about anything they put their minds to.

Many times media coverage revolves around the accomplishments of younger women and over the years, this same theme was shared many times to inspire young girls to look up to these trailblazers, be it in the military, aviation or corporate America.

Gray Ladies working a Red Cross booth in the Antelope Valley. (Dayle Debry, Antelope Valley Rural Museum)

As this year has played out I felt something pulling at my heartstrings, as the headlines reminded us every day of the tragedies that were playing out in nursing and retirement communities across America. The elderly were being ravaged by this relentless virus and they so often just became faceless statistics in an ongoing battle against an enemy that took away so many of our valued senior citizens, leaving those of us left behind asking why.

Reading an old Muroc newspaper, a headline caught my eye and the words “Gray Ladies” had me taking a second glance, conjuring a vision of something to do with Navy ships. Upon further reading, I realized that this was a story about World War II-era women, not only in the Antelope Valley but all across America. They were on the downhill side of 50, but still wanted a role to play in a world at war. The fact that they were older women was not going to get in their way, as they wanted to make a difference.

Organizing across America, the Gray Ladies were part of a Red Cross program that took the skills of older women and put them to good use, taking care of the wants and needs of American servicemen in hospitals across the country. The Gray Ladies performed tasks ranging from helping the medical staff, to simply sitting with an injured soldier and writing a letter to send to parents of a loved one far away.

These ladies could range in age from their late eighties to a couple who were in their nineties and were just as productive as their younger counterparts. They performed tirelessly when it came to their part in serving in the war effort, freeing up critical personnel needed elsewhere.

From the Muroc Mirage newspaper dated June 8, 1945. (Bob Alvis collection)

These women also did not just punch a clock after their work was done, you could see them back in their hometowns, working fundraisers and bond drives along with supplying donuts and coffee to lonely GIs far from home. Each one of these volunteers took pride in that Gray Lady uniform they put on each day. Looking in the mirror did not let the passing of time take away from their youthful spirit which was much needed at the hospitals they worked at, as the patients and staff needed to be uplifted and inspired to press on in the face of adversity.

As we take the time this month to celebrate the accomplishments of so many great women, let us always remember the unsung heroes that were not on the cutting edge of technology or breaking down barriers. Let’s honor the volunteers with the heart and soul of a mother or grandmother, who brought up the spirits of so many Americans in uniform in need of a reminder of home and a comforting voice that would say, “I’m here to take care of you, you’re going to be fine.”

I dedicate this column to all the women who passed away in nursing homes this past year and salute all the women who didn’t let the advent of their “golden years” tell them that they were no longer useful. They gave America their very best until they were called home to rest with those that, I’m sure, have the wings of angels.

Peace my friends, Bob out!

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