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Promoting women in the military

Ann Pearce spent years recruiting for the Marine Corps

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Michelle Wulfson | The ItemMarine Corps veteran Staff Sergeant Ann Pearce served under Colonel John Airola as the first female Marine Corps recruiter at the Houston station in 1966. Pearce estimates to have recruited over 200 young women in her four years of service there.

Similar to many high school graduates, Marine Corps veteran Staff Sergeant Ann Pearce was not always sure of the path she would take in life.

“I graduated high school and I tried college and I wasn’t really happy with it, and I tried work and wasn’t really happy with it,” Marine Corps veteran Staff Sergeant Ann Pearce said.

Pearce’s best friend joined the Marine Corps a year before she did, and it was during her Marine Corps graduation on Parris Island that Pearce was inspired to take a new direction in life.

Pearce enlisted in 1964 at the age of 19 and said that the experience changed her life forever, adding that she was shy and had no self confidence going in.

Boot camp was quite different for women in the 1960’s – returning to Parris Island, Pearce learned typing, grooming, marching and swimming, and graduated as an outstanding member of her platoon, earning her Blue Dress.

“Our mission was to relieve a male Marine of a desk job,” Pearce said. “Your job was to be a woman.”

She was then transferred to Camp Pendleton in California where she worked in the accounting office processing travel claims before being asked to go on recruiting duty in 1966.

Growing up in Florida, Pearce dreamed of becoming a cowgirl and accepted her new duties so long as she could transfer to the Lone Star State.

“I’d already been there one year I think, and we didn’t have a woman Marine recruiter at that time. Our male recruiters were having to try and recruit women as well as the men,” 32 year-old Marine Corps veteran Colonel John Airola said.

Airola enlisted in Houston at the age of 21 in 1955 and returned to the station 10 years later as Pearce’s Officer in Charge.

Pearce was the first female recruiter for the Houston station, continuously meeting if not exceeding her quota in enlisting two women per month for the Marine Corps.

“Most of them were out of high school and it was menial jobs around here because back in the 60’s there just wasn’t the work (for women),” Pearce said. “You could be a waitress.”

Pearce spoke to young women at high school career days and public service events, following up through mail-out campaigns and phone calls.

“One girl wanted to go into the Air Force, but they wouldn’t take her because she had acne. The Air Force sent her over to me and we enlisted her, sent her over to bootcamp, and she came back after radar school,” Pearce said. “She worked at a cleaners’ in Lufkin, so you can imagine what her life would have been like if she hadn’t been in the Marine Corps.”

Pearce estimated to have enlisted over 200 young women to the Marine Corps during her four years with the Houston recruiting station.

“The whole experience was wonderful, it’s such a feeling of pride and love of your country,” Pearce said. “It’s the best thing that ever happened to me in my life.”

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