Local / Virginia

Female veterans’ stories preserved in Virginia Beach exhibit

DENISE M. WATSON, The Virginian-Pilot


NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — During World War II, Therese Hughes’ mother was an officer in the Navy’s WAVES, Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. But her mother never talked about her time, and Hughes knew nothing of her service until years after Hicks died in 1977.

Hughes, now a photojournalist, has spent the past five years interviewing servicewomen in a project called, “The Military Women: WWII to Present,” which includes a photo exhibit that opened earlier this month at the Tidewater Community College and City of Virginia Beach Joint Use Library.

The exhibit is called “In a Heart Beat” and includes 98 portraits of 113 female veterans of all military branches. They are a sampling of the more than 800 women Hughes has interviewed and photographed so far. Her goal is to complete 1,200 interviews and to write books about each branch of the service, with the first being about women who served in WWII.

She got the name for the exhibit from her subjects. Of the 825 women, all but seven said they would serve again, “in a heartbeat.”

“This is the thing about my mother that I wondered. She was the traditional woman, but she had something in her that allowed her to step out of that role. That was courage I don’t think she ever thought she had,” Hughes said, during a phone interview from California.

“That’s not her that I knew. But these women did not see themselves as opening the door for other women. They saw their country as having a need and filling it.”

Hughes has traveled the country and interviewed women of all ranks and fields, from combat to culinary, to physicians, pilots and peacekeepers. She has two, 100-year-old WASPS, Women Airforce Service Pilots, who can still fit into their uniforms. She interviewed black women who served in one of the few roles they were allowed during WWII — working in Europe and making sure the troops got their mail.

Hughes knew she was doing important work when the women thanked her.

“They said, ‘No one has ever done this before; no one has ever asked me this before.’?”

Hughes’ visit will be a return to familiar territory. She was born in Norfolk in 1948, though the family moved frequently because her father’s Naval career. She taught herself photography, buying her first camera as a teenager with her babysitting money.

She spent a chunk of her career, though, working in public and health policy jobs for underserved populations, including women and children.

Uplifting women has always been important to Hughes. One of her subjects, 107-year-old Lt. Col. Luta Mae McGrath, is planning to attend. McGrath, who lives in northern Virginia, joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in 1943, and was stationed in Germany in 1948 and helped with the famous Berlin Airlift. McGrath retired in 1961.

“It’s important that these women participate because a young woman somewhere in the future can say, ‘I look like her, or my story is similar to hers,’ and I think I can do that. Nothing speaks louder than the inclusion of all women.”


Information from: The Virginian-Pilot, http://pilotonline.com


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