Local Woman Pioneers Role of Women in Military

Pat Stephens
Pat Stephens

Every year, on Veteran's Day, Pat Stephens shares a special memory.

"One afternoon, the lights all came on. We thought the entire town was on fire," Stephens said. "And people were yelling 'We did it! We did it.' We broke the Japanese code. And we did do it."

A few hours later, Stephens marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in an all female color guard. The march meant World War II was finally over and women had earned their place in the military.

"If we hadn't been so hard-headed [and] so determined, these women might not be there today. Because we were on trial," she remembers about her basic training.

Stephens and 500 other women were hand selected to serve in the US Navy. Their service was limited, however, until First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt stepped in.

In 1943, Roosevelt pushed for equal rights for women in the military. That year, Stephens became one of the first women to wear the Navy uniform and the personal flag bearer for Eleanor Roosevelt.

"And every time Eleanor Roosevelt had a party, she'd call us out to march. And we went from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capital Building, the length of Pennsylvania Ave," she said. "Many times we made that march."

Stephens comes from a family of Navy pilots. She says her decision to join the Navy was more than family tradition. It was about honor and duty, which are a few of the qualities we celebrate today.

"It was truly, truly an honor to serve my country as one of the first," Stephens said.

After nearly 3 years of service, Stephens returned to Amarillo with memories to last a lifetime.