War and American Women: Heroism, Deeds, and Controversy

By William B. Breuer | Go to book overview

16 A New View in the Pentagon

Inauguration Day in Washington emerged crisp and clear. Late that morning, the gleaming platform in front of the Capitol was packed with relatives of President-Elect James Earl Carter, Jr., Supreme Court justices, leaders of the Senate and House, and assorted other political types. A large battery of television cameras was arrayed in front of the platform. Some 100,000 bundled up and shivering party faithful thronged onto the lawn and the makeshift bleachers. It was January 20, 1977.

In Carter's honor (he was a Naval Academy graduate and served on active duty for seven years in peacetime), the Marine Band played the Navy Hymn. Walter Mondale, a former senator from Minnesota, was sworn in as vice president by, at his own request, House Speaker Thomas "Tip" O'Neill, a rough-and-tumble politician who had learned the tools of his trade in Boston.

Then it was Carter's turn. "Are you ready to take the oath of office?" Chief Justice Warren Burger asked him at precisely 12:03 P.M. While Carter's wife Rosalynn held the family Bible, he placed his hand on it. "Congratulations," murmured Burger after the oath. Jimmy Carter, a peanut farmer from the hamlet of Plains, Georgia, became the 39th president of the United States.

Then the new president, his family, and an entourage of the Washington elite took their places on the reviewing stand to watch the traditional Inauguration Parade wend its way along Constitution Avenue, which was packed with humanity on both sides. Among the marching units was a squadron from the newly integrated Air Force Academy, and as it passed, President Carter saluted the cadets with a toothy grin.

Carter did not know that officials at the Air Force Academy, aware of his advocacy for expanded roles for women in the military, had "stacked the deck," in the words of male cadets. After the integrated squadron had been selected, word arrived that the unit would have to be reduced in size for the parade. Several cadets were chopped off the squadron--none of them were women.

Academy officials then arranged the marching formation to place the women in conspicuous places--in the front row and on the left flank where

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