PVT MINNIE SPOTTED WOLF
PVT Minnie Spotted-Wolf was the first documented Native American woman to enlist in the United States Marine Corps.
Minnie Spotted-Wolf was born in 1923, on her father’s ranch about 15 miles northeast of Heart Butte, Montana which is about 40 minutes south of the Blackfeet Reservation, about 3 hours north of Helena, MT and about an hour south of the Canadian border.
She was member of the Blackfeet tribe, which is one of the 10 largest tribes in the United States. In many places they are called the Blackfoot Tribe, but their website and reservation information say Blackfeet so that is what I’m going with. Please forgive me if I’m getting that wrong. I know I already messed up where SGT Sophie Yazzie was from in the 1st episode, it’s pronounced Canyon de SHAY not Canyon de Chili.
Anyway, Minnie’s people’s traditional lands covered Idaho, Montana, and Alberta Canada. I’m pretty sure that where I live now is on the border of their land and the land of the Shoshone people.
While living on her family’s rural Montana ranch, Minnie was used to doing the types of back-breaking physical jobs traditionally done by men — cutting fence posts, driving two-ton trucks for livestock and crops, building bridges and fences, and rounding up and breaking horses while raising cattle and sheep.
Minnie first expressed an interest in joining the army when she was aged 18, shortly after the US entered into World War 2 at the end of 1941. However she was initially discouraged by a recruitment officer who told her that the war was ‘not for women’.
Minnie persisted, though, and she was eventually accepted into the USMC Women’s Reserve in 1943 at the age of 20. (This World War II women’s branch of the USMC Reserve had been authorized in 1942.)
The first official call for women to enlist in the U.S.M.C. Women’s Reserve went out in February of 1943 with posters encouraging women to “Be a Marine … Free a Man to Fight!”
But the bar was high. You had to be a U.S. citizen; not be married to a Marine; have no children under 18; stand at least 60″ and weigh at least 95 pounds; have good vision and sound teeth; and be 20-35 years old with at least two years of high school. Enlisted women initially trained at the Naval Training School at Hunter College in the Bronx, New York, until the Corps got its own training center at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, where almost 19,000 women became Marines during World War II.
Minnie went to Camp Lejeune, NC for her basic training. Now PVT Spotted Wolf attended half-day sessions to observe hand-to-hand combat, the use of mortars, bazookas, flame-throwers, guns, amphibious assault vehicles and landing craft. Her days began with 0545 reveille, followed by close order drills, a rigorous exercise program and a diet designed to build up the new recruits. During basic she gained 15 pounds from the diet and rigorous exercise. She later described the training as “hard, but not too hard” given her background on the ranch.
After initial training PVT Spotted Wolf served in California and Hawaii. Described by Overdrive Magazine as “slender, tough and determined,” she drove heavy equipment trucks like the International M-5H-6 and Chevrolet WA — a job usually done by men. As further testimony to her considerable abilities behind the wheel, she was assigned as a jeep driver for generals and high-ranking officers visiting the bases.
During her four years of service, the press found Spotted Wolf irresistible, with no fewer than 81 articles appearing in newspapers from coast to coast in August of 1943. The Austin American’s headline read, “Marines Grab Indian Queen” while Salt Lake City’s Deseret News announced “Rootin’ Tootin’ Lassie Signs Up,” on one hand touting her abilities as a “bronc-busting, bridge-building, truck-driving Indian Queen” while, on the other, describing her as “a slender and modest little morsel.”
A four-page comic book about her was even published to promote the war effort. Titled “One Little Indian,” it appeared in Calling All Girls magazine for teens, with dramatic tales of how “20-year-old Minnie Spotted Wolf, full-blooded Blackfeet Indian, did a man’s job before the war. Now she’s taking a man’s place in the U.S. Marines.”
She earned a two-year degree in 1955, followed by a Bachelor’s Degree in elementary education from the College of Great Falls in 1969, teaching at reservation schools and little country schools throughout Montana for 29 years. But she was no prim stereotypical schoolmarm; her daughter recalled “she usually kept a horse for riding near where she worked,” and “could outride guys into her early 50s.”
Minnie Spotted Wolf died on January 1, 1988, leaving a legacy of service as a U.S. Marine and beloved teacher. On a chilly Friday in August, dignitaries arrived as her family and members of the Blackfeet tribe gathered near mile marker 85 on U.S. Highway 89 in Pondera County, Montana. One lane of traffic near a metal monument at the southern entry into Blackfeet Country was blocked by the D.O.T. as seats in front of a podium began to fill. While Montana’s highways had long been named for men, that was about to change.
Dedicated on August 9, 2019, 76 years after her enlistment, a stretch of U.S. Highway 89 is now officially known as Minnie Spotted Wolf Memorial Highway. Her daughter spoke of her mother’s pride in her heritage and her military career, saying, “She wasn’t in the military just for herself, but for the Indian people. She wanted others to know where she came from and who she was.”
Minnie Spotted Wolf was always a patriot, active in her local American Legion Post #127 and proudly wearing her Post uniform as flag bearer during the annual Indian Days celebration and whenever she attended military funerals. When she was laid to rest following her death on January 1, 1988, at the age of 65, she was buried in that uniform, with black slacks and coat.
MAJ KATHY SILVIA
Kathy decided to joined the military as a senior in high school. She was the four of nine children.
When she spoke with the recruiter in December, about joining the Army, they referred her instead to west point.
She had great timing in her approach to the recruiter. The law was changed in October 1975 to allow women to enroll and attend the military academy.
July 1976 Kathy and 118 women arrived at West Point. Of those 119 women only two were black and only 62 women would make it through to graduation.
In 1980, Kathy made it through the growing pains of the new integration and was part of the first class of women to graduate from West Point. She graduated West Point with a Bachelors in Engineering.
This first graduating class of women had a serious amount of focus on them. One of the women commented about the contrast with the men. The men were seen as individuals while the women were seen as a whole. When a man would make a mistake, the focus was on him. If a woman made a mistake it was all of them.
* Similar to how a promiscuous woman can paint all of the women in the unit in many people’s minds.
When the press was giving attention to the academy over the women graduating there quickly came about a joke that the men were graduating too.
More than half the women of that graduating class requested to work in combat branches. Even though women were limited to support roles, many still wanted the opportunity.
Kathy and seven other women were assigned to field artillery for the next five years. At that time those seven women brought the total number of women in the field artillery branch up to 21. Kathy spoke about a visit her unit received from the Department of the Army where the officials spoke to the Soldiers about jobs. There were many opportunities for the men, the women not so much. They were told to go away.
Kathy had her share of discrimination from men due to her gender, however that didn’t stop her. She did a branch transfer to the logistics corps and moved on.
She was sent on mission to panama and during the time there her hotel was attacked and she had run ins with the Panamanian Defense Force.
Kathy transferred to the reserves in 1988. She spent ten years as active reserves from 1989-99. During this time, she helped deploy transportation units to the gulf war.
She did not deploy to the middle east during this time, but oversaw the preparations and deployment of the units.
She took a break from active duty until 9-11 happened. She was mobilized in 2003 and assisted in preparing units for deployment to war again. She worked in the only train battalion in the Army. Her unit worked with the British and eventually the program was handed over the Iraqi Civil Affairs.
He unit was only activated for a three month period and Kathy decided to give the active duty another go.
She served again from 2003 to 2006, deploying with the 812th Transportation Battalion to the Kuwait/Iraq combat zone. Her unit consisted of 1,200 soldiers that drove trucks to supply ammo and munitions to the combat forces. Driving trucks of ammo across the wild middle east? Yeah sounds like a walk in the park.
Kathy retired from the Army in 2006 as a Major.
In an interview Kathy did for the VA she talks about how she saw the progression of the VA from the 80’s to 2011. It went from are you lost? Can I help you find your dad? To having facilities for women. You and I and many others know that here in 2021 there is still a lot of that old mindset lingering around.
From 2011 to 2015 she worked as the Cemetery Administrator-Deputy Director, Chief Operating Officer from the National Cemetery Administration within Department of Veterans Affairs. During her time she worked at cemeteries in NY, CO and MD
The work that is involved in this field is amazing. She was involved in it all from Veteran Outreach and End of Life Preparations to arranging all cemetery functions (headstone formatting, burial application and scheduling and much more). The cemeteries ranged in size from 300 acres to over 1000 acres.
After serving with the cemetery administration, Kathy worked as the program manager for the Dept of Army Depot Operations in Chambersburg, PA from 2015 to 2018
Missile Maintenance Rebuild Programs for HELLFIRE, MLRS and JAMS/JAVELIN for the Army Depot in PA Kathy also has a Master’s degree in logistics from Websters University.
Currently she is serving as the Ambassador for the Women’s Military Memorial for PA State
Women in Military Service for America, (WIMSA) is a foundation that supports the National Women’s Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery. The national memorial honors the women who have served our country from the revolutionary war to today.
Kathy strongly believes that women need to record their stories for future generations. These stories shouldn’t be lost to history, we need to record our stories and make sure th
Kathy’s advice for her younger self and girls today?
“rule #1: Never give up hope. It’s a force multiplier. And so are YOU. When things are bleak, re-read rule 1.
Rule 2: It can be done. Take what the naysayers tell you and prove them wrong (with your actions). I did that (pretty much on a daily basis).
Always show others (your soldiers, staff, peers) appreciation, celebrate the wins (no matter how big or small), be compassionate towards others, show empathy, and be generous with your time and talent. We are stronger together.” Kathy Silvia
Photo credit: https://www.awfdn.org/speakers-bureau/