In the times in which we live, it has become acceptable for a presidential candidate to mock the disabled — to raucous applause from his supporters.
It has become cool for a commander in chief who has never served to dishonor war heroes – with tacit approval or telling silence from his followers.
It has become hilarious for the president of the United States to scorn the gender, ethnicity, physical appearance, etc. of vulnerable men and women, of legislators and political opponents he disagrees with — as his adoring crowds cheer wildly.
It is thus refreshing when an individual, group or organization remembers, honors and respects venerable attributes that are held in contempt by this president.
Fortunately, we have seen such recognition before as our nation frequently and solemnly honors our military, and others, who have contributed to our national security, including lesser known groups such as:
The intrepid World War II Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) who answered our country’s call for women pilots to serve at home in order to free male pilots to fight the war overseas.
The brave, patriotic Native American “Code Talkers” and other American Indian and Alaska Natives who have served and have earned our nation’s highest honors for valor and heroism, including the Medal of Honor.
Those who served in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) during World War II.
The for-so-long-unrecognized, even dismissed, African Americans who flew and fought as far back as World War I despite institutionalized segregation and, then, during World War II in their own segregated units, such as the valiant Tuskegee Airmen.
The thousands of iconic “Rosies the Riveters,” who literally rolled up their sleeves and worked at shipyards, aircraft manufacturing plants and other factories assembling our warships and aircraft during World War II.
There are others.
One is a relatively unknown group of women who served as phone operators with the U.S. Army Signal Corps in France during World War I and who have come to be known as the “Hello Girls.”
Yesterday, Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, II (D-MO) introduced H.R. 1953, the “Hello Girls” Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2019, a bipartisan bill to honor the over 220 American women who “played a pivotal role in connecting American and French forces on the front lines of battle, helping to translate and efficiently communicate strategy.”
H.R. 1953 would award the Hello Girls the Congressional Gold Medal—the highest civilian award bestowed by Congress—for their service and subsequent sixty-year fight for veteran status and the benefits that are earned with it.
According to Congressman Cleaver’s press release:
Formally known as the Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators, the Hello Girls were recruited by General John J. Pershing in 1917 as the first group of women to hold non-medical positions in the U.S. Army. Considering telecommunication in battle was still relatively new at the time, General Pershing was looking for experienced individuals that could improve communication on the front lines.
As the telephone operator field was dominated by women, General Pershing made the decision to form the specialized unit comprised solely of women. It was required that the women be bilingual in both French and English so that they could effectively communicate and coordinate with French and American forces.
By the end of the war, the Hello Girls had connected over 26 million calls in support of the war effort, and even continued to serve in Europe to organize the return of American forces following the armistice.
“I think it’s time we honor them with the Congressional Gold Medal so that the generations to come can look back in the Congressional Record and remember the heroism and patriotism these women displayed,” Congressman Cleaver concludes.
Please also read Adam Rogan’s article on how “[n]ot all heroes wear capes. Nor do they all fight with weapons” and how “The ‘Hello Girls’ fought with skill and cutting-edge technology…[and] were the first women to be sent to war by the U.S. Army, working as telephone switchboard operators and connecting 26 million calls throughout the First World War.”
The author is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and a writer.