A reception took place Monday to honor women in the military.
The exhibit “Through Our Eyes: The Women Veteran’s Experience” focuses on both achievements and obstacles women face in the military. The exhibit shows through Nov. 27 at the Nevada State Railroad Museum’s Jacobson Interpretive Center.
The experiences told from the viewpoints of 14 female veterans — and their photographer who featured each woman — originally debuted in 2018 at Reno Artown and since that time, many venues including museums, libraries and Naval Air Station Fallon have shown the exhibit.
“Their portraits of stories are here because the curator had seen the exhibit when it was at the Nevada State Museum (2021) and at Military Day in March at the Legislature,” said Christina Burr, the editor of My Life My Story, a program administered by the Veterans Affairs Sierra Nevada Health Care System in Reno. “He wanted it here for Veterans Day and during the month of November.”
In addition to Burr attending the reception, two of the veterans featured in the exhibit mingled with the visitors and talked about their roles in the military. Burr, who is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, said she’s received some “really good input” from people who have visited the exhibit.
“It (the exhibit) has been at several libraries where we had notebooks for people to leave comments. They were very gracious and very warm,” Burr said of the visitors.
From World War II to Iraq and Afghanistan, Burr said visitors are amazed what the women veterans have done during their time of service and after they left the military.
“The nice thing about their stories is not what they did in the service, but it also starts when and where they were born. We then move through a really good timeline of their life so there are all kinds of experiences and histories that are told within their stories,” Burr said.
Eventually, Burr said she would like to organize an exhibit with both male and female veterans, but she doesn’t have a firm idea on what the exhibit would encompass.
During Monday’s reception, one of the featured veterans, Luana Ritch, met the visitors and talked with them about her years in the U.S. Army.
“I think the thing that’s most meaningful to me about this exhibit is the story of the generation we pretty well lost,” she said.
Ritch, whose family moved to Reno in the early 1970s after her father retired from the U.S. Air Force, had lived in different places around the world including Tripoli, Libya.
By the time she was attending high school in Reno, Ritch said she had decided to enlist in the military. Once she received her diploma in 1977 from Hug High School, she left for basic training and then to basic electronics training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Her advanced training in electronics was completed at Fort Eisenhower (formerly Gordon), Georgia.
Ritch’s time in the Army, however, wasn’t what she expected.
“I had my problems in the military being a woman in a male environment,” Ritch said.
In assessing the exhibit, though, Ritch said she is in awe of the women veterans who served during World War II such as Doris Howard and then Carole Owens, who enlisted in the Navy in 1944.
Like so many young men and women at that time, they wanted to serve during wartime. Owens became a corpsman.
“I was 20 years old when I joined the Navy in 1944,” she wrote. “I did one clever thing. I said, ‘I don’t want to do what I am doing now. I want to go in the hospital corps. I want to save a life.’ That’s what I did.”
Ritch said she was in awe of Owens because she cared for the released American prisoners-of-war.
“As a corpsman, one of her jobs was to provide them (the soldiers) with comfort but also to assist the nurses and doctors who were changing their dressings,” she said.
In her own portrait, Ritch said she experienced a downward spiral in depression that was previously caused by a severe injury to her foot and ankle when she had a misstep on stairs.
“Duty at Camp Page (near the demilitarized zone) and delayed medical care left me with chronic pain and instability in that foot,” she wrote. While at Camp Page, she was the noncommissioned officer in charge of the quick reaction force.
“I also started having some headaches and migraines. When I got to the 8th Army Retreat Center (South Korea), I was having a lot of issues.”
The only way to rid the pain was taking medication, but she overdosed thinking that would help her escape the pain. As a result, she spent three days in intensive care and then transferred to a psychiatric ward.
Once discharged from the active Army, Ritch returned to Reno but a month later, she enlisted in the Nevada Army National Guard and was attending Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno. She transferred to the University of Nevada, Reno to seek a bachelor’s degree, and in the meantime, she was promoted to staff sergeant.
Ritch continued her studies after obtaining her bachelor’s degree in health education. She then earned a master’s degree in public administration and a doctorate in political science and public health.
In 1996, Ritch returned to the Nevada Army National Guard and was transferred to the Army Reserve, where she served for the next nine years.
“Having that experience with thus exhibit is part of what it makes it so inspiring,” Ritch said. “Future generations will hear the stories of what women went through previously and maybe future generations will be able to read my story,” Ritch said.
There are stories of women’s service in all branches of the military and heroism, especially during World War II. Burr said one of the veterans from the war was Howard, an Army nurse serving aboard the USS Comfort, a hospital ship.
Howard’s most harrowing day aboard the ship occurred six days during the battle of Okinawa on April 29, 1945. She recalled a Japanese kamikaze pilot crashing into the USS Comfort, killing 28 including six nurses and injuring 48. Within minutes, she remembered the explosion destroyed the surgery, and killed two doctors along with many patients and other medical personnel. Howard said the explosion picked up her 85-pound frame and threw her against the bulkhead. She injured her spine and banged her head hard.
“They sounded the alarm to abandon ship,” she said I her memories. “That alarm was deafening, horribly loud. I could just hear the alarm because there was an outlet right in my ward. Then, I didn’t hear anything else until the next morning. I didn’t have an officer or medical man; no one came. They had all been killed. From that point on, we had no surgical officer as we sailed back to the states.”
NEED TO KNOW
What: “Through Our Eyes: The Women Veteran’s Experience”
When: Through Nov. 27
Where: Nevada State Railroad Museum’s Jacobson Interpretive Center, Carson City
Hours: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursday through Monday. Closed on Thanksgiving.
Information: 775-687-6953; for additional information on the My Life My Story project, go to https://www.va.gov/sierra-nevada-health-care/programs