War and American Women: Heroism, Deeds, and Controversy

By William B. Breuer | Go to book overview

12 A Painful Homecoming

While the war was raging halfway around the globe in Vietnam, Pentagon leaders were hit by a series of lawsuits filed by military women who claimed that service policies discriminated against them on the basis of sex, and, therefore, they were being deprived of equal protection under the law. Instigating and orchestrating most of the legal actions was the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

In the spring of 1970, twenty-three-year-old Navy Seaman Anna Flores was assigned to an air station in Florida when she became pregnant. Her boyfriend was a Navy enlisted man. The couple planned to marry, but in the meantime Flores miscarried. Then her commander took action to have her discharged, even though she was no longer pregnant, pointing out that to do otherwise would "imply that unwed pregnancy is condoned" by the Navy.1

Taken in tow by a battery of ACLU lawyers, Flores, on August 24, asked the U.S. District Court in Pensacola, Florida, to prevent the Navy from discharging her for having been pregnant. Such an action would be discrimination, the ACLU charged, because the sailor who impregnated her was allowed to remain in the service.

Pentagon bigwigs were confronted by a rash of media stories sympathetic to Flores. Even though she had standing behind her the considerable wealth and clout of the ACLU, she was portrayed as a lone young woman fighting the male chauvinists in the Pentagon and their discriminatory policies. Consequently, Navy leaders capitulated and allowed Seaman Flores to remain on duty.

In the wake of media questions about her future chances for promotion and whether subtle retaliations would be set in motion, the Pentagon felt compelled to issue a public statement: "This incident should not affect her future eligibility for duty assignments, promotions, or reenlistment for which she is qualified."2

At about the same time, Captain Susan R. Struck, a twenty-six-year-old Air Force nurse stationed at a base in Washington state, became pregnant. In accordance with regulations, the service began proceedings to discharge her. But she refused to go and appealed to a lower court, which ruled against

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