National Association of Black Military Women

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Learn about the National Association of Black Military Women, which recently held its 20th biennial reunion in Phoenix.

Ted Simons: And on this Veteran's day, we highlight a group that doesn't often receive a lot of attention, a group that chose Phoenix to hold its 20th bi-ennial reunion. Christina Estes and Scot Olsen have the story.

Christina Estes: Threes women represent hundreds of years of military service. They are members of the National Association of Black Military Women, retired army colonel Stephanie Dawson is their leader.

Stephanie Dawson: One of the key missions of NABMW is to make sure that her story is told, to round out history. As my sister.

Christina Estes: Like her sister, Dr. Doris Allen enlisted this the army after graduating from college. This three-time bronze star recipient and member of the military intelligence Hall of Fame was motivated by her brother's World War II experience.

Doris Allen: He was shell shocked, just like PTSD now, the same thing, but I saw that. I didn't recognize it, of course. I asked him, what happened is this and he was telling me. What happened. He got a purple heart anyway, and I said I'm going to get them for that.

Christina Estes: She served three years in Vietnam as a POW interrogator and intelligence analyst.

Doris Allen: I was there for ten combat campaigns. I drank every day. At least I didn't smoke pot. At least I didn't use drugs. Other drugs. But, I drank every day. And that was a release. Many, many people drink in Vietnam. Many came home still alcoholics. And Drug addicts. And I thank God every day that, that I'm, I'm alive and well.

Christina Estes: Gratitude is on display at the group's reunion. Tables are covered with poster boards that highlight servicewomen with a special focus on the World War II generation.

Doris Allen: I remember seeing her.

Christina Estes: Major Adams was the first African-American woman to be an officer in the women's army auxiliary corps, later renamed the women's army corps. Adams commanded the army central postal directory battalion, known as 66888. Before she made history in Europe, she endured racism at home. In the early 1940s, Adams was among 40 black women in the first training class held in Des Moines, Iowa. That's also where Azalia Oliver attended basic training.

Azalia Oliver: It was interesting. We lived in a hotel. The blacks on the top three and the whites on the lower three floors, and they did everything first and we did everything later.

Christina Estes: It did not get any better after Oliver was sent to Kansas. After a crash course in nursing, they had to care for soldiers who did not care for them. Oliver says when a member of the women's army corps would complain, the captain would March them down to the commander's office.

Azalia Oliver: They were from Texas, and he hated black people. And, and, and he used to say, here comes the gdnwacs to complain. And, and it was, it was -- it got to be a joke with us. We could laugh at that. Also it, made a point because eventually we went down there so often, he put out a memorandum to, to the entire hospital, that the next soldier who called that, could go home dead or alive. He did not care but he was not having to put up with us anymore.

Doris Allen: It does not really make me mad. It, it, it makes me appreciate even more what they overcame.

Azalia Oliver: Whenever they show pictures of, of the past with the, what the country has done or a group has done, they always leave us out. But, yet, we are expected to perform willingly with smiles on our faces.

Sammie Clay: If it were possible I would still be in the military.

Christina Estes: Sammie Clay enlisted in the air force at the age of 18 and served during the Vietnam and Korean wars.

Sammie Clay: It teaches young people, discipline, it teaches a degree of respect. It teaches, you know, it teaches all the things that I don't think that they are learning right now.

Christina Estes: Recognizing the past was the goal of 250 -- 20 women who gathered in 1966. It marked the start of the association of black military women.

Christina Estes: The group has grown to six chapters with members in 28 states. They hold reunions every for years to remember the good and the bad. And to cherish the present.

Doris Allen: Life is ok. War was bad but I live it every day. At night, at night, I dream. I still dream. I still have, have, somewhere -- I still have all those, those things that make you feel stupid sometimes when, when, when people look at you. That's all right. I'm fine. We did our job well, and we have nothing more to prove.

Ted Simons: A 2011 study by the Pew research center found that black women enlisted a far higher rates than white or Hispanic women and represent a third of all women in the military. You can learn more about the national association of black military women at nawmw.com.

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