Women’s History Month Spotlight: Sallie Amato

Sallie Amato, a resident at Westminster Towers, holds the distinction of being one of the pioneering 18,000 women who served in the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve during World War II. Following her high school graduation, she worked as a telephone operator at an Army paratrooper camp. It was a poster that read, “Be a marine. Free a marine to fight,” that inspired her to enlist. At the age of 20, she enlisted and was stationed at Camp Lejune. After completing boot camp, she was assigned to the Field Music School, and became a bugler while taking on responsibilities at the headquarters company. Now 100 years old, Mrs. Amato takes a moment to reflect on her Marine Corps experience and shares some valuable insights for women aspiring to join the field, in honor of Women’s History Month.

How do you feel that the landscape in your field has changed for women who are wanting to pursue a similar role/position?

In my limited knowledge of what I hear and what I see today, sometimes the females are not respected. I think the Commandant and other people who are responsible try, but they are fighting against a very large group of men who do not respect women. It does not make any difference that the woman is wearing a Marine Corps uniform and proud to be of service. They take advantage of her weaknesses and this is televised, published, and made it even more hurtful for the women in uniform. I don’t know what can be done about that if anything. I think women really need to learn to protect themselves. That’s my feeling but I want to say that I’m so grateful because my service was during war time and we were respected for doing our job.

What do you think your field needs to be doing now to continue to advance women wanting to pursue a similar career?

At this point, I can only be an observer. Please, be grateful for those women who give their heart. They didn’t do this lightly. They didn’t do this to go get married. Some people look at them and say, “Oh, she’s joining the service to find a husband.” It’s not true. In their hearts, they love this country and they have enlisted or volunteered and they should be respected for volunteering and giving their young life.
Also, they should take advantage of the education that is offered to them. When I was discharged, I had choices. I could go to college on the G.I. Bill and the airlines were looking for women who had served in the military because they had dealt with people. I went to Radford College. At that time, it was the women’s division of Virginia Polytechnic Institute, in Blacksburg, Virginia. I didn’t have a lot of time allotted to me on the G.I. Bill, so the school and the professors worked with me and in 16 months I earned my bachelor’s degree in science and education.

What advice would you offer to younger women who may be interested in pursuing a career in your given field?

If possible, talk to someone who is serving now. Think about where you may be living. Know what the conditions will be. Where will you be living? If you join the Navy, will you be aboard a ship? Do you get seasick? Know in your heart why you want to join a particular branch of the service. Why are you doing this? What do you want to do after you do this? What do you want to do with that career? Because this is a career the same as going to college and if you are young enough and have the ambition, go enlist in a branch of the service. Get enough time to have your education paid for by the government. You serve the government, the government will serve you. It doesn’t take long and then you can have a career for the rest of your life even if you hope to be, or maybe already may be married, you’ll also need to have a career. Whether you use it or not, it is a very wise thing.

Can you share a memory of yours were you felt that the women that you were working with, stood together to overcome the challenges that are associated with being a woman in your given field?

The thing that pops into my mind are the religious women. I made a friend with a devout Catholic. She didn’t push her faith on me, we talked. She seemed to want to share her faith and I wanted to listen. There were other women who were part of other denominations – they wanted to share. It may be surprising to know how many of the women who were in the Marine Corps were devout Christians. There were also Jewish women and other denominations and groups of people. For those of us who were Protestant, we talked. In fact, the chapel was next door, right beside the flagpole.

After sounding my bugle calls, I would go in and talk to the chaplain who was Catholic. I asked him a lot of questions about Catholicism. He was never too busy to answer my questions. One day he said to me, “Sallie, if you ever want to be baptized Catholic, even though you’ve been baptized before, the Catholics ask that you be baptized Catholic. If there is a time that you want to do that, tell me.” Well, over those months that we became friends, I asked him a lot of questions and then there was the time that I said, “Yes, I really would like to be baptized Catholic.” And so he made the arrangements to go to the cathedral in downtown Washington and I was baptized Catholic. That was something that happened while I was a Marine in service. I am still a Marine and I’m still Catholic!

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