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The Stories of the Museum Series

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More than a thousand military men and women and family members have donated thousands of personal items and stories to the museum over the past forty years. The displays span World War I to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and tell the stories of those who fought and died. This series of stories describes a few of these in more detail.



        by Bill Crocker

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   Mary Webb was born in Bay City, Michigan, on September 19, 1946, and grew up in Standish, Michigan, a small community of 1,250. She was the oldest of seven children in a hardworking family in which the kids were taught right from wrong at a young age. The city of Standish had little to offer an aspiring young woman. She knew of a friend who was pleased with his decision to join the Air Force, so she visited the recruiting office in Bay City and signed up for four years. Her mom was her biggest supporter. She would have an interesting job, wear a uniform, travel, and have medical care and security. What was not to like?

   The late 1960s in US history were dominated by the involvement in the Vietnam War and the disruption it caused at home. Thousands of young men fought and died in a strange and unfamiliar part of the world. Nurses were the only women allowed to serve in combat zones. However, that changed in December 1970. Fifteen Air Force enlisted women, known as WAFs, were selected to serve at Tan Son Nhut Air Base as a part of a larger plan to place enlisted women in combat zones. They were staff sergeants and above, non-nursing personnel, and non-volunteers. SSgt Webb was the sixth one to arrive. Upon arrival, she was told the 7th Air Force Office of History needed a clerk to work with three historians. The others served in different capacities such as personnel and communications. In all, there were approximately 1,200 women, mostly from the Army, who were stationed elsewhere.

   The Tan Son Nhut Air Base staff was not prepared to receive women. The WAFs were housed in a cement building with bunk beds. Their duffle bags served as storage lockers. They remained there for about two weeks while a wooden building was constructed to serve as their permanent housing.

   Webb was provided with an IBM Selectric typewriter, the Rolls Royce of typewriters at the time. She was told to take good care of it because there were no replacements.

   Although this placement of non-nursing enlisted women in combat zones was considered a success, the US military was reducing its presence in Vietnam by the early 1970s, thereby reducing the need for the program to continue.  

   Staff Sergeant Webb left Tan Son Nhut Air Base at the end of 1971 for stateside duty and left the service in February 1973. She lives locally with her husband, a retired Air Force senior master sergeant. They both served for many years as Museum of the Forgotten Warriors board members, Webb serving as treasurer.

   Staff Sergeant Webb’s display can be viewed in Case #2.


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