Veterans’ Reflections: Serving to Make a Difference

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) 

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