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Lena Andrews Spotlights the Valiant Women of WWII at Annual Kelleher Forum

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Valient Women book cover, Image of Lena Andrews, Image of students listening to Lena Andrews

Historians and policymakers have long debated whether the Allies won World War II because they had more manpower and materiel than the Axis powers did, or greater leadership, perseverance, and adaptability. Dr. Lena Andrews maintains that both mattered in mutually reinforcing ways made possible by a third factor typically overlooked in this debate: superior combat support. Yet, with a shortage of eligible men to serve in the military, who did all this work, and how? In honor of International Women’s Day, Andrews joined the School of Public Policy and the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM) for the Annual Kelleher Forum on March 2nd to share findings from her upcoming book, Valiant Women, about the more than 350,000 brave American women who filled essential combat support roles in World War II.

The Kelleher Forum honors Catherine M. Kelleher, one of the four founding faculty members of the School of Public Policy, the founder and first director of CISSM, and the founder of the Women in International Security network (WIIS). This year’s event took on special meaning with Catherine’s recent passing on February 15, 2023.

Dean Robert C. Orr began the event by describing Catherine’s lasting impact on the School – what he called, “Catherine’s imprint on our DNA – our DNA as a school, our DNA as CISSM, our DNA as scholars and practitioners of policy.” He also noted that, “For those of you who did not know Catherine, she was truly a force of nature. I think it’s important that we all understand the legacy that we’re inheriting from her.”

CISSM director Dr. Nancy Gallagher referenced Andrews’ book title, Valiant Women, stating: “that’s a perfect label for Catherine, and a perfect label for what we all aspire to be.” Of Andrews, Gallagher emphasized, “I can’t think of anybody better to represent the next generation of people trying to carry on Catherine’s legacy.”

Andrews has more than a decade of experience in national security and foreign policy, including jobs in different parts of the U.S. government, and a Ph.D. in security studies from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (as Kelleher did in 1967). Her academic research and practical experience convinced her that logistics – perhaps the least glamorous aspect of security policy – deserved more attention.

While she was working from home during covid, she decided to write a popular press book about how women contributed to the war effort not only as nurses and riveters, but also in military communications, medical, maintenance, personnel, supply, and transportation roles. Faced with a significant shortage of eligible men, the military created seven programs for women to serve throughout World War II: the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC/WAC), the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES), the Army Nurse Corps (ANC), the Navy Nurse Corps (NNC), the Marine Corps Women Reserves (MCWR), and the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve (SPAR).

Andrews focused on three of the many incredible women described in her book: Gertrude Pearson, Jessie Kontrabecki, and Florene Miller. Pearson, of the WAAC, served as a cryptologist, working on disinformation campaigns to distract the Axis powers from Allied battle plans and laying transmission cables on Omaha Beach in Normandy. In the WAVES, Kontrabecki was so highly skilled in her position as an instrument mechanic repairing naval planes that she became one of the main trainers for everyone who came through her naval air station – men and women alike. Florene Miller, a WASP pilot, flew planes all around the U.S. to prepare them for transport overseas. With her instructor’s rating and qualifications to fly almost every combat and fighter aircraft of the time, she managed her own team of women and frequently trained men in the armed forces to fly. Without these women, and many more like them, the combat support roles so vital to the success of the U.S. armed forces in World War II would have suffered greatly.

“Understanding women’s war experiences means you are understanding the war experience,” said Andrews. “Women’s stories matter, period.”

Watch the 2023 CISSM Kelleher Forum featuring Dr. Lena Andrews:

Honoring Catherine M. Kelleher

CISSM director Dr. Nancy Gallagher authored the honorary piece Catherine McArdle Kelleher – an Appreciation. Comments in remembrance are welcome.

Support the Catherine M. Kelleher Fellowship for International Studies, which continues to honor Catherine’s inspirational legacy, funding an exceptional graduate student pursuing their master’s or doctoral degree at the School of Public Policy.

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