First for a Maine woman: Remembering Joy Hayes Siegel Casalinova of Oxford

By Sharon Bouchard

Feature Writer

Gas was just 40 cents a gallon. A new home cost $32,500 and the average American income was $12,900. The Supreme Court in a landmark decision in Roe vs. Wade determined that abortion was a constitutional right for women. Folks gathered around their televisions to watch what was happening with the Waltons on Walton Mountain and they listened to music on 8-track tapes.

The top grossing movie was the Sting and fiber optics that would change the method of communication was invented. More and more women were making their way in the workplace, but the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment was still being waged.

The year was 1973 and in Maine a woman just under 5-feet tall made Maine history by becoming the first woman in Maine to enlist in the regular U.S. army. It was the year that saw the end of the draft and opened the door for expanding servicewomen’s roles and numbers in the military It was a door that Joy Hayes Siegel Casalinova of Oxford chose to walk through.

Casalinova went to Fort Bragg, North Carolina to do her basic training and then on to Fort Lee for extended training in weapons, army intelligence and armor where she graduated at the top of all her classes.

In 1974 Casalinova was sent to Vietnam where she served in armor and army intelligence. Up until that time women were part of the Woman’s Army Corp in nursing or clerical roles.

The role of women in the military, however, has a long history dating back to 1775 when they served on the battlefield as nurses, water bearers, cooks, laundresses and saboteurs in the Revolutionary War.

When Casalinova enlisted in the army with a strong commitment to serve her country, women were welcomed and encouraged to be all that they could be. This was not always the case.

In the Mexican War of 1846 Elizabeth Newcomb was not welcome to serve in any capacity. So, she enlisted as Bill Newcomb in Company D of the Missouri Volunteer Infantry. She marched 600 miles from Missouri to a winter camp in Colorado before it was discovered that she was a woman; she was immediately discharged.

During the Civil War women were allowed to serve in field hospitals, but women soldiers on both the blue and gray sides disguised themselves as men to serve in combat. In 1866 Dr. Mary Walker received the Congressional Medal of Honor, the only woman ever to receive the nation’s highest military honor.

Throughout all of the wars involving the U.S., women have played important roles whether in nursing or clerical — even on the battlefield. In January of this year Defense Secretary Leon Paneta removed the direct ground combat exclusion rule for women in the U.S. military.

Since 2001 there have been 280,000 women deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan often serving as helicopter pilots in hot zones and as rescue pilots. More than 150 women have been killed in action in these two wars and at least 800 have been wounded in action. There are currently 202,400 women on active duty in all branches of the U.S. military.

When Casalinova was serving her tour of duty in Vietnam she was one of 11,000 women to do so. Though 90 percent served as military nurses, some like Casalinova had roles in intelligence and air traffic control. In 1993 the Vietnam Women’s Memorial was dedicated at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Joy Hayes Siegel Casalinova served with the 18th Battalion, the Fifth Training Brigade of the U.S. Army. She spoke with great pride to family and friends of her military service, especially at a time when women were breaking ground in the military. She passed away on Aug. 23, 2013.

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