It was 1964 – and these women became US Navy officers in a different world


Like many of her classmates at the Officer Candidate School, Ginny Hallager embraced the Navy for the opportunity to go overseas and her chance to go on an adventure.

But that was September 1964, which meant the Naval Officer Candidate School-W – the “W” stood for women – offered limited options for service.

They could not serve on ships, fly airplanes, or fight in combat. Decades would pass before they could.

“We weren’t even able to board a boat during our course in the fall of 64. We were hoping to go on a day cruise but no, there were absolutely no women on board,” said Hallager, 79, of San Antonio, who helped organize a class reunion this weekend.

The gender boundaries didn’t end with the service listings. If they got pregnant, the Navy would throw them out ruthlessly. It was law, practice, and custom – not just in the Navy but in America.

Women had to have a loan co-signed by their husbands, recalls one graduate. Another bought a house when she was single, but lost control of it under Virginia law when she married – her husband became the owner the moment he put a ring on her finger.

A robust group of the OCS-W class, who trained in Newport, RI, are now in San Antonio – 16 classmates who last saw each other after graduating just under 57 years old.

Forty-three cadets in total graduated after the eight-week course, June through October 1964. Many of them were recruited into the Navy during their first year of college.

They were well aware of the limits of their service and of the civilian world in general. It was a time when women frequently went to college looking for a husband as well as a degree.

Today, they say the obstacles they faced back then were not significant. They were delighted to be naval officers. They have no regrets.

Ginny Hallager, one of 43 cadets in a class at the Naval Officer Candidate School-W in 1964, examines the contact details of some of her classmates. She helped organize a meeting in San Antonio.

Robin Jerstad / Robin Jerstad

“For me it was not a problem. It was not my primary focus in the Navy, ”Hallager said of his inability to board a ship. “My goal was to have missions all over the world, to travel. “

Michaline Polakowski Larson, who would marry a young officer she met at the mess, hoped to learn something by being in uniform and perhaps serve eight or ten years.

Like the other women, Katharine Laughton knew why they were in Newport – to fill a variety of shore-based jobs held by men who would be reassigned to ships in the event of a major conflict.

The most likely enemy was the Soviet Union. The tensions of the Cold War were high. The Cuban Missile Crisis had occurred less than two years earlier and US involvement in Vietnam was set to intensify.

Public respect for anyone in uniform was high. The Navy looked like the women were a pretty good deal.

“My first job was at Moffett Field and I was a communications officer,” said Laughton, who would eventually be one of two cadets in the class to retire as rear admiral. “I entered the Navy because when I graduated from college there weren’t a lot of opportunities open and so two years of equal pay for equal work was not that bad.”

They didn’t dwell on career areas that were closed to them – command roles on board ships, gaining their wings as fighter pilots. Many left the service after getting married and having children. Some left because there was no way to be with their husbands. Some whose pregnancies took them out of the Navy returned years later when the rules changed.

But none of them have stopped loving the Navy, several said.

“I just wish I could have stayed longer,” said Elizabeth Carmack, 79, of Sumter, SC. “That’s the only regret I have. I don’t think anyone had a bad experience; I really don’t. Some people served overseas. It was just something that didn’t. wouldn’t have happened … if people had stayed in their own little hometown.

Two class photos of the 43 cadets in a Class of the Naval Officer Candidate School-W in 1964. Ginny Hallager of San Antonio helped organize a naval officers reunion this weekend.

Two class photos of the 43 cadets in a Class of the Naval Officer Candidate School-W in 1964. Ginny Hallager of San Antonio helped organize a Naval Officers’ meeting this weekend.

Robin Jerstad / Robin Jerstad

Hallager’s dreams of joining the Navy returned to high school in Lincoln, Neb. Raised by a single mother years after her parents divorced, she wanted stability in her life. The Navy would mean a regular salary.

“I would have something interesting to do, I would serve my country and it just seemed like a logical way to take care of myself,” said Hallager. “And I wasn’t planning on getting married early. I thought it would be a career for me and it would be great.

Larson considered joining the military as a teenager in Detroit, where she served in the Civil Air Patrol. While attending Marygrove College, she thought she was joining the Air Force, but a Marine Corps recruiter insisted she was in the Navy.

Civil Air Patrol had given Larson a sense of structure and she found more of it in OCS, and a chance to do something different. The cadets walked to class, but there was no running or other strenuous physical activity. The focus has been on academics.

“I have a feeling they didn’t know what to do with us in 1964,” said Larson, 79, who lives in a retirement community in Dearborn, Michigan. “I intended to stay, but I married a very handsome young officer.”

It was Matthew Larson, whom she met at the Newport mess. They liked each other’s company and then crossed paths at Naval Air Station Norfolk, where he served aboard the USS Guadalcanal.

A junior in college, Carmack received a letter on Valentine’s Day 1963 from the Navy asking if she wanted to attend Officer Candidate School. Summer at Newport, a major naval base, looked fun.

Not much was happening in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and job prospects for women – even the academic fields leading to those jobs – were limited.

“In fact, a very good friend of mine, her dad was a well-known petroleum geologist – Oklahoma was a big oil producer – she wanted to follow and work with her dad. They wouldn’t allow her to take oil courses. geology because it was a girl, ”Carmack recalls, refusing to identify the school.

“No one could go to Annapolis, no one could go to the Air Force Academy. It wasn’t possible at the time, ”Carmack said. “We were approaching the Vietnam War, it was time to make a decision on what you wanted to do and it was the perfect thing.”

Laughton became a communications assistant on her first posting to Moffett Field in San Jose, Calif., A job that saw her enroll as a crew member aboard planes to Hawaii. The Navy, she said, gave her “the freedom to use my brain.”

“When you went to the officers’ club and wore your badges on your uniform, you were treated as an equal,” she said. “Back then there were a lot of restrictions on women in terms of what they could do and the Navy gave me the freedom to be treated as an equal, and I loved that. I liked it.

“I was only planning to stay for two years and I was 34 years old, so something must have happened.”

Ginny Hallager was one of 43 cadets in a class of the Naval Officer Candidate School-W in 1964. An original uniform from this formation from 1964 is at left.

Ginny Hallager was one of 43 cadets in a class of the Cadet Officer School-W in 1964. An original uniform from this formation from 1964 is at left.

Robin Jerstad / Robin Jerstad

Laughton led four different commandments in 10 years. She met hostility, sure, she said – “but you meet hostility in life, don’t you?”

“And if you do your homework and know what you’re doing and you’re good at what you do, then that’s the best weapon against hostility.”

Once she was commissioned, Larson took over smaller tasks that senior officers didn’t want to disrupt, like blood drives, in addition to his main job, which included both accountability and responsibility. security clearance requirement.

She kept a .38 caliber handgun in her office.

Over time, Larson saw the Navy change. While in Pensacola, Florida in the 1970s with her husband, she observed women learning to fly cargo planes.

“I saw with envy, in a way, that they had these opportunities. And of course when they put women on submarines I couldn’t believe it, ”Larson said.

She was a lieutenant when she got pregnant and had to leave the Navy. She and her husband, who retired as commanding officer and died four years ago, had two sons, including a lieutenant (navy). Three of their four grandchildren also served in the military.

Carmack was in the Navy almost three years before he married.

“Then I left,” she said, “but later regretted that I stayed. “

Hallager calls herself “a real short-term worker”. She met her husband, Donald Hallager – a career Air Force pilot who flew the B-47, B-52 and KC-135 tankers and retired as a colonel – even before heading to Newport. They had a son and a daughter.

“I had to understand how this marriage was going to work and for me it was having a very short career in the navy. I got pregnant, I went out and I became an Air Force wife, and that was my military career, ”she said.

“I had no idea this was going to happen because I thought I chose the Navy and it would be my career, but love stepped in.”

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