Women in Naval Aviation Begins Here

painting of LCDR Rainey holding helmet

On 22 June 1995, President Bill Clinton spoke at Arlington National Cemetery on the occasion of the groundbreaking ceremony for the Women in Military Service for America Memorial.

The Women's Memorial is a unique, living memorial honoring all military women - past, present and future - and is the only major national memorial honoring women who have served in our nation's defense during all eras and in all services. Work on the Memorial was in progress for about 11 years and it was dedicated October 18, 1997.

Appropriately, at the groundbreaking, the Commander-in-Chief spoke of Lieutenant Commander Barbara Allen Rainey, the mother of two daughters, the Navy's first female aviator, tragically the victim of a training crash.

"Her story," said President Clinton "reminds us that even in peacetime, those who wear the uniform face danger every day. Now she rests just behind me in the quiet of these sacred grounds."

A mere 13 years earlier, at Naval Air Station (NAS) Corpus Christi, Texas, another in the long line of officers, Lieutenant (junior grade) Barbara Allen Rainey received the wings of gold of a naval aviator. Yet, on this day, 22 February 1974, that designation was unlike any before her because she became the first female naval aviator in history.

Those that followed LCDR Rainey have reached heights previously thought unattainable, including flying combat missions from the decks of aircraft carriers, commanding squadrons, and launching into outer space as Space Shuttle astronauts. Tragically, this woman upon whose shoulders these outstanding women pilots stand did not live to see the dreams of her gender increasingly fulfilled. On 13 July 1982, while flying as an instructor in a T-34C Mentor from NAS Whiting Field, Florida, the then married Barbara Allan Rainey crashed while avoiding another aircraft during touch and go landings at an outlying field. Both she and her student, Ensign Donald Bruce Knowlton, were killed.

Today women in the United States Navy serve in nearly every capacity on ships, in the air and at the various command facilities and bases. Their contribution to the operational navy is no longer an oddity; it is a necessity for the Navy to do its business in defense of the nation.

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