ROANOKE, Va. – Women can now serve in every brand of the military, but that wasn’t always the case.
10 News sat down with the first woman from Roanoke who signed up to serve in the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.
87-year-old Jean Ridenhour remembers her decision to join WAVES very well. She was 18-years-old and unsure about what she wanted to do after graduating from Jefferson High School in Roanoke.
“During World War II, my mother’s cousin came to visit us and she was in the Army and I thought ‘That uniform really looks nice,'" Ridenhour recalls. "I wanted to go to college. I knew the only way I could was maybe enlist in the service. I kept looking at the uniforms and I decided I liked the Navy one better "
As a Navy Communication Technician Second Class, she spent time in Washington D.C., but can’t disclose what she did there.
After working at the NSA, Ridenhour decided she was too close to home and added one more year of military service, prompting her move to Hawaii, where she served during the Korean War.
“It was sad because sometimes in Honolulu I would go to the cemetery. You would hear taps almost all day,” she said. “They were bringing bodies back from Korea. It was just a sad experience for me thinking about what these men were going through and the nurses that were working there.”
The Korean War veteran said going on an honor flight and visiting the Women’s Memorial in D.C., where she’s a charter member, was one of the highlights of her life.
Regarding her time in the Navy, Ridenhour said she didn’t think too much about it when she first joined, but that soon changed.
“Then I began to realize the importance of protecting our nation. I felt my job was very important. I would like to be a role model for other people in the service and those not in the service," she said.