Making history: One woman's journey in the WAF
By Staff Sgt. Benjamin Rojek, 30th Space Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 19, 2008
VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --
It was 1948 and it was a big year. Israel became an independent state, the U.S. won 38 gold medals at the Olympics in London and gas prices averaged 26 cents per gallon.
But for young Patricia Rahe, the big news was the Women's Armed Services Integration Act, signed into law by President Harry Truman, which for the first time allowed women to serve in the regular armed services. She was waiting for this moment, having dreamt of joining the service since she was a child.
"I always watched the soldiers and wished I could be one," said Patricia Ono, the former Ms. Rahe. "But we had to wait."
Waiting for her chance to enlist, she didn't just sit on her laurels. She joined the Civil Air Patrol and took flying lessons. She also became a detective, investigating cash register fraud. But she never gave up, visiting her recruiter regularly, and it paid off. That October, Ms. Ono was the only woman selected from Cincinnati to join the Women's Air Force.
"They were very particular," she said. "They were just picking so many from different cities, but only one from (the Cincinnati) area."
She was one of the first women to go to Air Force basic training since the law was put in place, so things were not like they are today. On her train ride from Cincinnati to San Antonio, she was the only woman headed to basic training. At Kelly Air Force Base, where the WAF training took place, she and the rest of the 3741st WAF squadron were in a fenced in and guarded area within the base with only female drill instructors. And their uniforms were the same throughout the day.
"We wore dresses for drill and we wore dresses for PE," Ms. Ono said. "We were never down on the ground doing pushups in our dresses. It was very mild then."
It was also very big in the news. Reporters from Washington D.C. came out to San Antonio to document the squadron's progress. In order to get the best photo opportunities, they took five of the trainees, including Trainee Rahe, and photographed them around San Antonio in their uniforms.
It wasn't all photos and interviews, however. There was training and schooling to accomplish and all of her traveling with the detective agency and drilling in the Civil Air Patrol helped her. Each woman had to take a turn as a drill leader and the more than 70 women in the 3741st proved their mettle, coming in fourth in the graduation march that December.
"That was my proudest moment," Ms. Ono said. "I knew I was in."
With basic training behind her, she was sent off to Westover Air Force Base, Mass., which was part of the Military Air Transport Service (an early predecessor to the Air Mobility Command). There Ms. Ono started on the job training as a Military Police officer in the provost marshal's office. Because she was a woman, she was not allowed to carry a sidearm or go on patrols. Her duties consisted of such things as taking fingerprints or identification photos. But as fate would have it, this job would change her life.
Next door to the provost marshal's office was the base photo lab. It was there that Airman Rahe met her future husband, Master Sgt. George Ono, a base photographer, while dropping off film. The frequent drop-offs led to dating which led to marriage in June 1950.
Unfortunately, another rule that was different then for women in the military was that if they got pregnant, they had to leave active duty. In late 1950, Ms. Ono was discharged and she and her husband were stationed at Vandenberg.
"I hoped to make a long career out of it, but things happen," she said. "But I would join again in a minute. I loved it."
The women joining today's Air Force have wonderful opportunities, Ms. Ono said.
"I took flying lessons when I was in Civil Air Patrol," she said. "I never thought when I went in the military that I could fly. For the women now, they can do so much more."
Her two years in service to the United States may not seem long temporally, but her actions, and those of the rest of the 3741st, are part of the foundation for today's superior air and space force.