Monument honors Delaware women who served nation

The Delaware Women’s Service Monument was installed Oct. 16 by the William V. Sipple and Son Monument Company of Milford. (Submitted photo)

DOVER — A lap around Legislative Hall offers a good Delaware history lesson as you stop and ponder the tributes to our military past.

There are stones commemorating Delawareans who served in the Revolutionary War, World War I and World War II, and conflicts in the Middle East.

Soon, the corner of Legislative Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard North will be an extra special spot to reflect on the contributions of Delawareans.

It will be home to the new Delaware Women’s Service Monument.

A dedication is planned for noon Saturday. It will follow a Veterans Day Parade that starts two hours earlier in downtown Dover.

“I have a feeling that this may very well turn out to be the most popular monument with members of the public,” said Dick Carter, chairman of the Delaware Heritage Commission.

The photos, he said, make it unique.

They’re a “cross section” of women who have served in various roles — nurses, soldiers, pilots, loadmasters and others.

In all, there are 17 photographs that will draw in visitors and passers-by, Mr. Carter said.

“We have what I call the old side and the new side,” said Mr. Carter. “The old side has women from World War I through Vietnam and the new side has everything since Vietnam.”

The first side includes images of Lt. Ruth Haddick Dorsman, an Army nurse during World War II; Lt. Col. Nancy Harkness Love, a leader of the first Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron; Elizabeth Lawton Cerchio, a Navy hospital apprentice during World War II; Mary Hodgson, a Red Cross nurse who served in France during World War II; three Army nurses who served in Vietnam; a squadron marching at Dover Air Force Base in 1970; Lt. Margaret Ann Secora Tos, an Army nurse in Korea; Major Linda Morelli, the first female helicopter pilot in the Delaware National Guard; and a worker in an aircraft factory in New Castle during World War II.

The other side has images of Army Capt. Jessica Stevenson, a highly decorated Apache helicopter pilot who served in Afghanistan; Sgt. Lisa Mosley of the 82nd Airborne in Iraq; Technical Sgt. Holly Orr of the Delaware Air National Guard; retired Army Col. Marisa Ianni Tanner, who served in Afghanistan and Iraq during her 33-year career; Sgt. Lydia M. Judge, a Harrington woman who enlisted in the Marines in 2011 and now serves as a loadmaster; Capt. Robin Russell Gibbs, of Dover, a nurse who served in Afghanistan and now commands a Naval Reserves unit; and Staff Sgt. Lissedia Collazo Garcia of the Delaware National Guard shown in an operating room while deployed in Trinidad.

Below the monument, an inscription on the pedestal reads, “Building on the accomplishments of earlier generations, today’s Delaware women are taking on new challenges in every aspect of the military, including combat service.”

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Next to the monument will be a storyboard with information on 10 Delaware women known to have died during wartime efforts.

Two were Red Cross nurses during World War I.

The other seven women died during World War II. Five of those who died during World War II were killed in an explosion at munitions plant in Milford in 1943. One died of appendicitis stateside.

And, the sole Delaware woman killed in hostile action in World War II was 2nd Lt. Rachel Hannah Sheridan of the U.S. Army Nursing Corp. She was one of 15 people killed in an airplane crash after the plan came under fire in Algeria in 1943.

The most recent was Senior Airman Elizabeth Loncki, of New Castle, who was killed Jan. 7, 2007, by an explosive device in Baghdad. She was part of a team that had successfully executed 194 missions, resulting in the disarming of 129 IEDs.

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For the dedication, Mr. Carter is preparing a 75-page booklet that will include the stories of scores of Delaware women.

He said it, by no means, is all-inclusive and there are plans to continue work on it. A more thorough piece likely will be published by the Delaware Heritage Commission.

The stories he has learned along the way have made this monument much more personal than the others around Legislative Hall.

“There’s so much material out there,” he said. “I’ve been really amazed at the number of people who have come forward and with the quality of their stories.”

Among his favorite stories is that of Lt. Mary Reese, who served in the U.S. Army Nursing Corps in the South Pacific during World War II. After that, she became a nun and continued nursing in Africa for more than 50 years, including the worst days of the AIDS pandemic. Mr. Carter said the woman now lives in the state of New York.

Another extraordinary contribution to the effort were the letters of Ethel Jean Beardsley. Ethel and her sister, Nell, were both nurses who served during World War I.

The more bashful of the two, Ethel, was sent to the battlefields of France, where she served in the Red Cross.

In one of her letters home, she described the activity of the German enemy.

“Where we were yesterday will be a day long remembered by those of us who were there,” she wrote. “Fritz got entirely too affectionate and threw his kisses a little too close. We ran for dugouts, and most of us rolled in, not taking time to look out for steps. We stayed there until he got tired of waiting for us to come out. We are closer to the firing line than any of the other nurses on this sector. We feel a little chesty about this, even if we do sit up all night in caves. It isn’t a bit of trouble to keep awake.”

Mr. Carter has had a lengthy career dealing with Delaware history and never tires of stories like these.

“The thing that amazes me is that there’s always more to learn,” he said. “You realize just how rich the history of this state is.”

Andrew West is executive editor of the Delaware State News.

Reach editor Andrew West at awest@newszap.com

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