Women Who Gave the Ultimate Sacrifice

Memorial Day is a time to remember the fallen and to honor the sacrifice of men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country. I wanted this week’s podcast episode to focus on military women who have given their lives in service to this great country. Many people do not know the role women have played throughout history. With military service of women going back to the Revolutionary War, some women would dress up as men so they could fight. In World War I and II, many people knew that women served as nurses, but did you know the role of women expanded far outside the role of nurses and secretaries. 

episode 73 Women Who Gave the Ultimate Sacrifice

Listen to the entire episode here.

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The stories are from WWI to Present Day

In 1917, the first two women of the US military were killed in the line of duty. Army nurses, Edith Ayres and Helen Wood, were killed on May 20, 1917. They were with Base Hospital #12 aboard the USS Mongolia en route to France. The ship’s crew fired the deck guns during a practice drill and one of the guns exploded spewing shell fragments across the deck killing both women. 


Evelyn Genevieve “Sharpie” Sharp (October 1, 1919 – April 3, 1944)

Sharpie was one of the 38 women of the Women Air Force Service Pilots who gave their lives in service to the US Army Air Corps. You can hear more about their story and their fight to be recognized in my interview with the granddaughter of Elaine Harmond, a WASP, Erin Miller in Episode 49.

Second Lieutenant Ruth M Gardiner (May 20, 1914 – July 27, 1943)

She was a nurse in the US Army Nurse Corps and was the first American nurse to lose her life in the line of duty during World War II.


Genevieve Marion Smith (April 25, 1905 – July 27, 1950) 

Although the former World War II Army nurse was due to retire in January 1951 after 22 years of military service, she accepted the position and sealed her destiny on a fatal air flight to Korea. On July 27, 1950, a three-man aircrew, twenty-two male passengers and one female–Genevieve Smith, left Haneda, Japan for a flight to Pusan, Korea in a C-47D.  They crashed and were lost at sea, there was only one survivor.

Lieutenant Wilma Ledbetter (April 27, 1912 – August 25, 1950)
Wilma Ledbetter was one of 15 women aboard the USS Benevolence. She died when the USS Benevolence was rammed by the SS Mary Luckenbach and capsized.


First Lieutenant Sharon Ann Lane (July 7, 1943 – June 8, 1969) 

Though one of eight American military nurses who died while serving in Vietnam, Sharon Lane was the only American nurse killed as a direct result of hostile fire.

Gulf War

Specialist Christine Mayers (1978? – February 25, 1991) and Specialist Beverly Clark (1980? – February 25, 1991)

Specialist Christine Mayers and Specialist Beverly Clark were the first two-woman to die in the support of Operation Desert Shield. They both died in an Iraqi Scud missile attack on their barracks in Saudi Arabia on Feb 25, 1991. 28 Americans died in the attack and 89 were wounded. 

Global War on Terrorism


Sergeant Jeanette L. Winters (May 4, 1976 – Jan 9, 2002)

The first woman to die in the War on Terror was Jeanette Winters. She was a radio operator in the Marine Corps who was usually far from combat, but the KC-130 crashed on approach killing her and her crew.

Senior Airman Ashton LM Goodman (June 14, 1987 – May 26, 2009)

Ashton died in an IED attack outside Bagram Air Base with her commander Lt Col Mark E. Stratton II. She was part of the Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team.

First Lieutenant Ashley White (Sept 3, 1987 – October 22, 2011)

Ashley was assigned to a Cultural Support Team attached to a Joint Special Operations Task Force in Afghanistan. You can read more about Ashley’s story and all the women who served on Cultural Support Teams in the book Ashley’s War.


Specialist Lori Piestewa (December 14, 1979 – March 23, 2003)

She is believed to be the first Native American woman to be killed in combat in a foreign war. She was the first woman to die during the Iraq War. Piestewa was a single mother of two young boys.

Corporal Jennifer Parcell (June 27, 1986 – February 7, 2007)

She was part of the Lioness Program, a program that uses female Marines from different military occupational specialties to search Iraqi women at checkpoints.

Operation Inherent Resolve


Chief Petty Officer Shannon Kent (1983 – January 16, 2019)

Shannon was a Navy cryptologist and mother of two. She was in Manbij, Syria responsible for finding ISIS cells and their leaders.

Mentioned in this episode:

Women in the military: Making waves since WWI
Women Airforce Service Pilots
Do You Know the Story of the Original Military Women Pilots? – Episode 49
Korean War Resources
Climbing the ranks to Brigadier General – Episode 65
Do You Know the Story of the Gulf War? Episode 57
Provincial Reconstruction Team
Ashley’s War

This episode is in memory of Luc Gruenther.

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