My name is Gail Gaffney Williamson. I am a Woman Veteran of the United States Marine Corps. I served from 9 May 65 to 9 May 68. After Active Duty with the Marines I served in the Air Force Reserve for about 6 years.
In 1965 I was attending Palm Beach Junior College in Lake Worth, Florida when I began thinking about joining the military. I turned to my mother, Sgt Sanna Ross Gaffney, for advice because she was a WWII Army Air Corps Veteran. Mother taught “Morse Code” to Air Crew Members in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. After a short discussion with Mother she recommended that I join the Marine Corps because “they had the prettiest uniforms”. I readily agreed because I knew nothing about anything military!! Little did I know what was to follow!
On 9 May 65 I enlisted in the Marines. I had no idea what I was getting into. After recently reading Mother’s letters she wrote to her family during WWII, I learned that her WWII military experience was much different than my own. Her letters sounded like a sorority girl who had just arrived for her first year of college! That was not my experience as I arrived for Basic Training at Parris Island, SC. Mother had left out the part about the screaming and breaking you down so they could build you up.
It was only later in life that I realized and appreciated the things my Army Mother taught me that helped me to succeed in the Marine Corps, the Air Force Reserve and in life.
- Mom set high standards and didn’t like excuses. You did what you were told to do, you did it promptly, and you did it to her standards! She also believed in saying what you mean and meaning what you say! I got the message!!
- Using her military training, in the 1950s Mom became a Girl Scout Leader. In addition to camping, exploring and earning badges, Mother trained her teenage Girl Scouts to march in the local parades. They could perform many different and impressive maneuvers. When I was about twelve, I loved to follow my Mother around and call cadence to the Girl Scouts. This skill came in handy when I was at Parris Island.
- Mother taught me to swim at a very young age and I became a very strong swimmer. During Basic Training at Parris Island I could comply with every request the Drill Instructors made at the pool. This included diving off a platform diving board, in fatigues, with a rifle around my neck and staying afloat for two hours. I also retrieved knives from the bottom of the pool with my hands tied. Only a few of us recruits could meet these requests. To me it was relaxing.
- My firearms training started at the age of four when my Dad built me and my sister a single shot .22 Rifle. While my Dad did most of my firearms training, Mother was an excellent shot as well. The entire family competed against each other which made me a better shot. I became an excellent marksman which served me well during my military service. Being able to handle firearms opened doors of advancement to positions such as the Communications Watch Supervisor while at Marine Corps Air Station Futema Okinawa. Had I not been able to shoot I would not have been given that job because the supervisor had to carry a .45. Some Women Marines during this period were not offered firearms training during basic training. I’ve never been sure why the basic training experiences for Women Marines were so different. At age 70, I’m still a good shot and have my concealed weapons license.
- Mother was a Mathematician, Science Teacher and in her later years a Genealogist. She demanded excellence and while I’m not sure I achieved that, I learned to strive for excellence at all times. Mother taught me the importance of being a continuous learner. She encouraged the importance of accepting change and how to be a change agent. I believe that advice lead me to a satisfying and successful career.
I had always been taught that a life of service and especially Military Service is important. I come from a long line of family members who have served in the military. In addition to my Mother, I had two Grandfathers, Mike Gaffney and Francis Ross who fought in WWI. My uncle, 1st Lt Donald Ross of the 191st Tank was killed in WWII at the Battle of Bulge and was forever our hero. My Aunt, Corporal Elizabeth Ross served in the Army during WWII. My Father, MSgt Joseph Gaffney, was a B17 gunner instructor. I have two younger female cousins, Susan Casseur Treadway and Bonnie Casseur Thorpe who also served. Susan became a C-130 Mechanic in the Marine Corps and Bonnie was a Helicopter Mechanic in the Army. There are other uncles who also served in WWII as well: Billy Gaffney (Navy), Charles Casseur (Army), and Steve Korpan (Army Air Corps). I’m very proud of my family’s tradition of military service.
I’m glad I listened to my Mother’s advice about joining the Marine Corps. The skills learned in the Corps served me well throughout my life. My Mother’s military experience also contributed to who I have become. Her expectations and training allowed me to have a successful military career as well as a successful civilian career. Mother was also an avid historian, researcher, reader, and continued to send “Morse Code” her entire life. She passed away in 2009. My Mother wore Army Boots and I’m proud that she did!!
Gail E. Williamson