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Chambersburg exhibit celebrates roles of women in the military

November 13, 2007|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Since before the days when Molly Pitcher grappled with an artillery piece in the Revolutionary War, women have played a role in America's military, a role celebrated Monday with an exhibit at American Legion Post 46 on Veterans Day.

Women like Lt. Col. Wendy Tomczak of the 167th West Virginia Air National Guard, whose career goes back to Vietnam, along with deployments in the Persian Gulf War, Macedonia and Iraq, from where she returned at the end of September after four months.

"One of the advantages of being in the Air Force ... most personnel only have to deploy for four-month periods of time," Tomczak said.

Well, usually.

Tomczak was sent to Pakistan on Christmas Eve in 2002 for a three-month deployment. She returned in September 2003.

Women like Helen Shimar, who enlisted in 1943 in Baltimore and was stationed in India and Sri Lanka, then called Kandy Ceylon, as secretary to a British general.

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"You can't understand the British," said Shimar, echoing the old saying that America and Britain are two countries separated by a common language.

Carolyn McCartney of Dry Run, Pa., was in the Army Nurses Corps during the Korean War, serving with the Eighth Army and back stateside with the Second Army at Fort Eustis, Va.

"We used to call it Fort Useless," she joked. While she did not serve in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, McCartney said they were nothing like the television show "M*A*S*H."

Life in the military is risky, even in peacetime. Joy Gray joined the Army in 1949 and was later stricken during a polio epidemic in occupied Japan. She spent about a year recovering at Walter Reed hospital.

Joanna Hays was the event coordinator and a retired Air Force master sergeant. Now a federal employee at Letterkenny Army Depot, she hopes to make this tribute to women in uniform an annual event.

"I just wanted an opportunity for women to come out and be proud they served in the military," Hays said. "It gives us a chance to wear our uniforms again, for those of us who can still get in them."

The uniforms might be snug after 30, 40, 50 or 60 years, but memories remain forever young.

"It's the best part of a life," McCartney said. "There's far more memories in three years. And they're good memories."

Veterans parade

It was a day of remembrance for veterans in Chambersburg and a day for the community to remember them. There might have been nearly as many people in the Veterans Day parade as were watching from the sidewalks, but the ranks of old soldiers formed up smartly behind the banners of veterans organizations on Memorial Square.

The teenagers and young men who went off to war in the 1940s returned to build lives and communities, said Gerald Hawk, the department commander for AMVETS of Pennsylvania.

Men such as Mayor Samuel W. Worley, who said he served with "'The Mighty Eighth, the Eighth Air Force,'" in Europe during World War II, and Franklin County Clerk of Courts William Vandrew, a Vietnam Era veteran.

"The younger people learn about patriotism, the better," said Vandrew. "They are the ones that are going to have to carry the torch."

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