Seventy-five years ago, the first female Marine was stationed at Camp Pendleton.
And on Aug. 13, 75 years to the day, the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce hosted many active and retired female Marines to celebrate the anniversary. The chamber, along with retired female Marines, produced a magazine celebrating and honoring those women documenting their efforts as trailblazers.
Also, 2018 is the 100th anniversary of the first woman to enlist in the Marine Corps. Additionally, Marine First Lt. Marina Hierl is the first woman to lead an infantry platoon, which was announced earlier this month.
“We did it in conjunction with the Camp Pendleton Historical Society,” said Kristi Hawthorne, vice president of events for the chamber. “Not only did they provide content … they reached out to Marine women associations and they sought personal stories and photographs.”
Marianne Waldrop and Ramona “Dee” Cook, both retired Marines with distinguished careers, attended the event. Waldrop assisted Hawthorne in writing the stories, 30 published with another 30 to 40 not making the cut, of those women.
Waldrop, who resides in Carlsbad, retired as a colonel and through her career was always a student of the history of women in the Marines. She is an expert, perhaps the only one in the U.S., on the history of female generals.
Before 1967, women were not allowed to be promoted, by law, to the rank of general. It all changed and in 1978, Margaret Brewer was the first woman promoted to the rank. In total, 12 women, including three on active duty, currently serve as generals, opening many doors, especially now, as the Marines is including women in combat units.
“If you’re just in support roles, there weren’t any real competitive women to be a general in any of the services,” Waldrop said.
Waldrop was inspired by her father to join the Marines. F.H. “Cy” Waldrop retired a colonel and his daughter believes, through her research, the pair is the highest-ever ranking father-daughter combination in the history of the Marines.
“The reason I was involved in the magazine is I know a bit about the history of women generals,” Marianne Waldrop said. “I realize how painful it is for a non-writer to write their story. I offered in February to a large group of women Marines to assist with their writing.”
Cook, meanwhile, spent 30 years in the Marines, retiring in 2012, and now lives in Murrieta. She joined, she said, because she was bored.
It was during her second year at Cal Poly Pomona, Cook saw a recruiting mailer, met with the recruiter and joined. From there, she was promoted through the ranks until she retired as a sergeant major.
Over those 30 years, she recalled the evolution of the Marines and how more opportunities for women have come to light. Still, she does not want to see the Marines become a social experiment when it comes to women.
She believes any Marines, male or female, must earn their rank and responsibilities. Still, Cook is aware of the challenges those promotions come with, as she said her male counterparts instantly have credibility when leading a unit, while she had to prove herself through her resume and actions.
“Now, the women they’re going on deployment and it’s something I wish I could do, but at the time I was pretty senior,” Waldrop said, adding at her rank the opportunity was unavailable. “I’ve been the only female in the company. Every unit I checked into I was never just welcomed aboard. I always had to prove myself. My male counterparts just walked into the unit and had the respect that went with that.”
The magazine will be distributed to Camp Pendleton, other military installations and throughout the city for free, Hawthorne said. Of the stories not being published, Waldrop said efforts are in place to publish a second magazine to feature those women and their stories.
“It was really great to see the camaraderie between these generations of Marines,” Hawthorne said. “It was an honor for the chamber to put something together for the Marines.”