Milestones—The Nation Loses Two Military Women Icons
The Foundation is deeply saddened to report the recent passing of two military women icons. Captain Ruth A. Erickson, a 30-year veteran of the United States Navy, died on Nov. 25. She was the Navy Nurse Corps' twelfth Director (originally known as Superintendents), and served in that position from 1962 to 1966. A Pearl Harbor survivor, she was one of nine members of the Naval hospital's nursing staff on Dec. 7, 1941. She assisted in the operation of the first patient brought to the ward on that fateful day and later in the war, served aboard the hospital ship Haven. CAPT Erickson held a variety of Navy nurse assignments, including chief nurse at three major Navy hospitals; personnel officer for the Nurse Corps at the Navy's Bureau of Medicine and Surgery in Washington, DC; and she served aboard the hospital ship Relief. CAPT Erickson was 95 at the time of her death.
Dr. Martha (Settle) Putney joined the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in 1943, and reported to Fort Des Moines, IA, to attend the 35th Officer Candidate School (OCS) class, one of five African American women in the class. Turned down for a teaching job after earning her master's degree in history, she had gone to work for the War Manpower Commission in Washington, DC, soon became frustrated with the system and volunteered for the WAAC. She was commissioned a 3rd Officer (2LT equivalent) in the WAAC on July 7, 1943, and stayed at Ft. Des Moines after graduating OCS, assigned as a training officer with the newly established Women's Army Corps (WAC). She was later reassigned to Gardiner General Hospital, Chicago, IL, where she was in charge of an all-Black unit of WAC medical and surgical technicians.
Though she wore the uniform of her country, she faced many injustices on and off the military installations where she was assigned, but seldom retreated from addressing such injustices with dignity, professionalism and determination. 1LT Settle was discharged from the Army in 1946, following World War II, and with the GI Bill, earned her doctoral degree. Among her many accomplishments as a scholar, educator and community leader, she authored two books and a number of scholarly pieces. Her book, When the Nation Was in Need: Blacks in the Women's Army Corps During World War II (1992), was greatly influenced by her experiences in the WAAC/WAC. Dr. Putney was also profiled in Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation (1998). Dr. Putney died on Dec. 11, 2008, at the age of 92. She will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery on Feb. 10, 2009.