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The 1950s and 1960s

Like their WWII sisters, Puerto Rican women continued to volunteer for military service during the 1950s and 1960s–a time when a military career was an unusual choice for a woman and women comprised less than 2 percent of the US Armed Forces. Military nurses, like 1LT Gloria Esparra Petersen of Barranquitas, PR, continued to be a vital asset to the Army during this period. 1LT Petersen served as an Army nurse at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, DC, during the Korean War. Assigned to the recovery room, she worked with soldiers wounded in Korea who had been evacuated to the United States for medical treatment.14

Another nurse, LTC Nilda Carrulas Cedero Fuertes, joined the ANC in 1953 at the age of 21. Originally from Toa Baja, PR, she was on active duty until 1964 and then served in the Army Reserve until 1990. LTC Fuertes’ most memorable experience in the military was teaching the latest modern nursing techniques to Nicaraguan Army Nurses while on temporary duty in Nicaragua for six months.15 Some Puerto Rican Army women opted for non-nursing careers. WO4 Ana Alicea-Diaz served in the Army for 25 years, 24 of them in law enforcement. The San Juan native said, “Keeping our troops and families safe, was very fulfilling, rewarding, and an honor.”16

The Marines also enlisted women from the island. Rose Franco, of Ensenada, PR, joined the Marine Corps in 1954. The 20-year-old private was assigned as a supply administrative assistant at Camp Pendleton, CA. At the end of her four-year enlistment, she returned home, intending to work for an airline company. However, Franco missed being a Marine so much that she decided to re-enlist before her 90-day reenlistment window was gone. She said, “Although I love my home and Puerto Rico, I found that by the 89th day I was so homesick for the Marines that I rushed back to the states and re-enlisted for another six-year term.” During the 1960s, Franco was selected as the administrative assistant to the Secretary of the Navy and she was stationed at the Pentagon. In 1968, at the Secretary’s recommendation, Franco was appointed as a warrant officer, one of only 11 women warrant officers in the Marine Corps at that time. She was then assigned as an adjutant and congressional inquiry officer of a staging battalion at Camp Pendleton. CWO3 Franco retired in 1977 after 23 years of service.17

13 Women’s Memorial Register, Idalia Salcedo Rodriguez, Registration # 529526.
14 Women’s Memorial Register, Gloria Esparra Petersen, Registration # 440401.
15 Women’s Memorial Register, Nilda Carrulas Cedero Fuertes, Registration # 501350.
16 Women’s Memorial Register, Ana Alicea-Diaz, Registration # 510478.
17 Women’s Memorial Register, Rose Franco, Registration # 144418.