Local chapter of Women Marines celebrates 100 years of service
As always, this year's Veterans Day honors those who have served in the nation's military. In 2018, however, there are two special remembrances: the centennial of the World War I armistice and the first 100 years of service by women in the U.S. Marine Corps.
In late August, 11 members of Lady Marine Rose Or-1, the local chapter of the Women Marines Association, attended the organization's 30th Biennial Convention and Professional Development Symposium in Washington, D.C.
The event, with 700 attendees from across the country and beyond, celebrated a century of women serving in the U.S. Marine Corps and dedicated a new grave marker for the first woman Marine, Opah May Johnson, a WWI veteran.
In addition, local chapter President Jacqueline Caputi and Vice President Rosy Marcelino-Macias won two of the WMA's three national service awards, and chapter members Sgt. Jeanique Lacour and Cristina Gonzales accepted Chapter Achievement and Recruiting Awards on behalf of OR-1.
On Oct. 29, Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett recognized the chapter and presented Marcelino-Macias with the city of Salem's Distinguished Service Award for her community leadership, Caputi said.
And, in a fitting tribute, Heirloom Roses in St. Paul has developed a commemorative heritage rose for the chapter called Because She Served. It symbolizes strength, courage, honor, sacrifice and is available to all who want to recognize a woman's service. Some proceeds from sales support OR-1.
Memories in D.C.
Looking back on the symposium in Washington, D.C., Caputi said what was most memorable was "experiencing the powerful sense of pride from our collective efforts and sacrifices in over 100 years of service to our nation, and being present for a historic event."
Clackamas County resident Sandra Spatz-Wiszneauckas also attended the event in the nation's capital and said she was pleased with the recognition the local chapter received at the event.
She was very moved by the dedication of Johnson's grave marker at St. Paul's Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
Opha May Johnson joined the Marine Corps Reserve on Sept. 18, 1918. Her early duties were as a clerk to the Quartermaster General at Headquarters Marine Corps; she was discharged in 1919 and worked as a civil servant for the Quartermaster General until she retired in 1943. Johnson died in 1955 and was buried in an unmarked grave, Spatz-Wiszneauckas said.
Experts at the cemetery were able to locate her remains, and at the start of the convention, WMA held a ceremony to dedicate her monument. The ceremony included a speech by the Commandant of the Marine Corps Robert B. Neller, and the playing of "March of the Women Marines," the "Marines' Hymn" and "Taps."
During the opening banquet, Hattie Kelley, World War II veteran and OR-1 member, celebrated her 95th birthday in the company of hundreds singing "Happy Birthday" led by Neller.
The Women Marines Association was established in Denver in 1960 to honor the history of women in the U.S. Marine Corps and to pass that pride along to a new generation of servicewomen. Lady Marine Rose OR-1 was founded in 1964 by Meg Dawes and currently has more than 30 members who represent service during WWII, in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and other places.
"Our collective goals for our chapter consist of ensuring that we are visible within the communities we serve and promote the esprit de corps of our organization while sponsoring various local community organizations," Caputi said.
The group participates in Veterans Day and Fourth of July parades, meets four times a year to pick up litter along Portland Road in Salem, and volunteers for Habitat for Humanity, among other activities.
Caputi was born in Venezuela, South America, and grew up overseas. She joined the Marine Corps in 1995 and was stationed in South Carolina, Virginia and California before being sent to Okinawa, Japan, in 1999.
In May 2002, she reported for duty as senior instructor for the Family Counseling and Education Service Program and as an inspector instructor for the Commanding General's Inspection Program at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, in San Diego.
There she received her credentials from the Naval Health and Science School as the first woman Marine Prevention Counselor in the state of California.
In January 2006, Caputi was deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, then was sent to Camp Pendleton, California, in 2009.
She retired from the Marine Corps in 2015, and moved to Portland, where she joined Lady Marine Rose OR-1. She is married to Derek Caputi and has two daughters.
Spatz-Wiszneauckas joined the U. S. Marine Corps Reserves in 1966. She served at HQMC in Arlington, Virginia, the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and was assigned from 1968-69 to Naval Forces Vietnam in Saigon.
Spatz-Wiszneauckas processed out of the Marines in 1969 and later received her nursing degree on the G.I. Bill and worked as a registered nurse for 25 years.
She joined the Women Marines Association in 2001, while living in Washington, D.C. She and her husband, David Wiszneauckas, moved to Portland in 2012. She joined Lady Marine Rose OR-1 in 2016.
"David is a member of the Loyal Escorts of the Green Garter, (the WMA's auxiliary group), and is invaluable to the organization," helping with conventions, chapter events and supporting her, Spatz-Wiszneauckas said.
She also has been involved with the compilation of the book "Women Vietnam Veterans: Our Untold Stories," by Donna A. Lowery. The book is available in paperback, hardback and Kindle at amazon.com.
Find out more
To learn more about the Women Marines Association, visit womenmarines.org.
To learn more about Lady Marine Rose OR-1, visit facebook.com/Womenmarinesassociation-OR-1chapter. The group welcomes new members.