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Celebrating Black History Month

January 30, 2024

 

The Women Veterans Alliance (WVA) proudly joins in the celebration of Black History Month, recognizing and honoring the invaluable contributions of Black women in the military. As an organization committed to supporting and empowering women who have served in the armed forces, WVA acknowledges the unique experiences and achievements of Black women veterans. Throughout history, these trailblazing individuals have played crucial roles in shaping the military landscape and breaking barriers. 

Here are just a few of these amazing women:

Command Sgt. Maj. Mildred C. Kelly

From March 1947 to April 1976, Mildred C. Kelly dedicated her service to the U.S. Army, a career that unfolded unexpectedly after she earned a degree in chemistry from Knoxville College in Tennessee. Initially, she taught high school before deciding to join the Army, where her remarkable journey took shape. In 1972, Kelly achieved the historic milestone of becoming the first Black female Sergeant Major in the U.S. Army. Just two years later, in 1974, she further solidified her legacy by attaining the position of the first Black female command sergeant major at Aberdeen Proving Ground, marking her as the inaugural Black woman to hold the highest enlisted rank at a predominantly male-populated major Army installation. Following her retirement, Kelly continued her dedicated service on various boards, including the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation, Maryland Veterans Commission, and the Veterans Advisory Board. Unfortunately, Command Sgt. Maj. Mildred C. Kelly succumbed to cancer in 2003, leaving behind a trailblazing legacy in the military.

Kelly - Celebrating Black History Month

Command Sgt. Maj. Mildred C. Kelly

Brig. Gen. Hazel W. Johnson-Brown

Hazel W. Johnson-Brown’s aspiration to become a nurse led her to the Harlem School of Nursing, and her professional journey commenced at Harlem Hospital as an operating room nurse upon completing her education. In 1955, seven years after President Truman dismantled military segregation, Johnson-Brown enlisted in the U.S. Army, showcasing remarkable skills and accepting various assignments worldwide.

Among her notable roles was in Japan, where she trained nurses destined for Vietnam. Her groundbreaking moment occurred in 1979 when she achieved the rank of brigadier general, overseeing 7,000 nurses in the Army Nurse Corps. This made her the first Black woman general officer to hold such a prestigious position. Upon her promotion, Brig. Gen. Johnson-Brown emphasized, “Race is an incidence of birth… I hope the criterion for selection did not include race but competence.” Serving in the U.S. Army from 1955 to 1983, Brig. Gen. Johnson-Brown earned numerous awards and decorations throughout her distinguished career.

Brig. Gen. Hazel W. Johnson Brown - Celebrating Black History Month

Brig. Gen. Hazel W. Johnson-Brown

Maj. Gen. Marcelite J. Harris

Born on January 16, 1943, in Houston, Texas, Harris embarked on a remarkable journey. Graduating from Spelman College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in speech and drama, she initially aspired to become an actress. However, her trajectory took a different course, leading her to join the Air Force. In 1965, she successfully completed Officer Training School at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, setting the stage for a diverse array of assignments within the Air Force.

Harris’s illustrious career was marked by numerous groundbreaking achievements, earning her the distinction of being the first female aircraft maintenance officer, one of the initial two female air officers commanding at the United States Air Force Academy, and the Air Force’s inaugural female director of maintenance. Additionally, she served as a White House social aide during the Carter administration. Throughout her service, Harris garnered accolades such as the Bronze Star, the Presidential Unit Citation, and the Vietnam Service Medal.

In 1997, Harris retired as a major general, holding the highest rank among female officers in the Air Force and standing as the highest-ranking African-American woman in the Department of Defense. Her legacy continued to inspire even after her passing in 2018.

harris - Celebrating Black History Month

Maj. Gen. Marcelite J. Harris

Sgt. Danyell Wilson

Wilson, hailing from Montgomery, Alabama, enlisted in the U.S. Army in February 1993, marking the beginning of her groundbreaking journey. Serving as a military police officer in the MP Company, 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), she demonstrated exceptional dedication and skill. After rigorous testing and training, Wilson achieved the remarkable feat of becoming the first African-American woman to earn the esteemed Tomb Guard Badge. On January 22, 1997, she assumed the solemn role of a sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Born in 1974, Wilson’s historic achievement and her subsequent high-visibility walks were a testament to her commitment and paved the way for future trailblazers. Upon receiving the silver emblem, she expressed relief, noting that completing the demanding training was an honor in itself.

wilson - Celebrating Black History Month

Sgt. Danyell Wilson

Staff Sgt. Joyce B. Malone

Staff Sgt. Malone had a distinguished military career, spanning service in both the Marines and the Army Reserve. In 1958, she enlisted in the Marines, dedicating four years to her service. Following her tenure in the Marine Corps, Malone married and pursued her education at Fayetteville State University. Several years later, while employed at Fort Bragg, she joined the Army Reserve, specifically the 82nd Airborne Division, in 1971. At the age of 38, Malone etched her name in history in 1974 as the first and eldest black woman to earn Airborne wings in the United States Army Reserve. Throughout her time in the Army Reserve, she accomplished an impressive 15 parachute jumps, showcasing her exceptional dedication and breaking barriers in the process.

 

Staff Sgt. Joyce B. Malone - Celebrating Black History Month

Staff Sgt. Joyce B. Malone

These trailblazing women have laid the foundation for upcoming generations of female military personnel and Black women who serve within the U.S. military. Their narratives should serve as a source of inspiration, urging us to recognize and value the sacrifices and contributions of those who have, are currently, or will serve their nation.