WASHINGTON, Nov. 12, 2010 — When Betty Ann Patterson joined the Army in 1952, she knew she wanted to do one thing: make a difference.
“Women were only a minuscule part of the military in those days,” she said. “I wanted to break new ground, to go where few women had gone before and to be a leader in an unexplored area.”
Serving 22 years in the military, Patterson did just that.
Originally from Tacoma, Wash., she was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Women’s Army Corps shortly after her graduation from the State College of Washington, now Washington State University. After completing her basic military officers course at Fort Lee, Va., in February 1953, she accepted a regular Army commission as a second lieutenant, and in 1960 she transferred to the Air Force as a captain.
Patterson served during both the Korean and Vietnam wars and spent one year in Vietnam from August 1967 to 1968, a period she called the most memorable time of her service. She said one of the biggest lessons she learned during her time in the service was not to expect special privileges because she was a woman.
“In my day, women had to work harder than men to achieve success in the military service,” she said. “We had to prove ourselves worthy of our responsibilities.”
As an officer, she said, she learned to seize every opportunity to lead as a woman during that time. “Never tell your superiors you can’t do something,” she added. “If they think you’re qualified, you are.”
Patterson retired from the Air Force as a lieutenant colonel in 1974, and returned to Tacoma after many years of living in La Jolla, Calif., and Arlington, Va.
After retiring, Patterson said, she sees Veterans Day as a day of rest for her and her husband, who is retired from the Navy. She added that in her younger days she would attend military parades and sometimes would march, but that now she spends her day reflecting.
“Veterans Day means celebrating the military strength of our country so that we can remain free,” she said. “It recognizes the veterans who have contributed to our freedom, many by making the ultimate sacrifice.”
(“Veterans’ Reflections” is a collection of stories of men and women who served their country in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and the present-day conflicts. They will be posted throughout November in honor of Veterans Day.)
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)