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Nassau honors women who served in the military in WWII

On Wednesday, May 10, 2017 Nassau County Executive Edward P. Mangano honored women who served in the military during WWII at Nassau's second annual Women in the Military Recognition Ceremony in Old Bethpage. The luncheon gathering celebrated women who are considered trailblazers for later generations. (Credit: Newsday / Chuck Fadely)

Eleanor Rizzuto had just completed her nurse training at Kings County Hospital when Pearl Harbor was attacked, and joined the Army straight away.

In 1943, she found herself working in a field hospital perched atop a Tunisian rise that overlooked a tank battlefield teeming with German Tigers and American Shermans.

“We used to follow the troops, and as they advanced, we’d advance, too,” recalled Rizzuto, 92, of Floral Park, who still gets weepy when she remembers caring for a soldier whose lower jaw had been ripped away in the desert conflict. “They always talk about the boys, but the girls deserve a lot of credit, too.”

Rizzuto was among dozens of female veterans who gathered Tuesday at the Museum of American Armor in Old Bethpage to share stories of sacrifice and draw strength from their common experience.

The luncheon, hosted by Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, was billed as the second annual Women in the Military Recognition Ceremony.

Held amid displays of military hardware in the museum’s main hall, the event honored Rizzuto and 10 other women who served in the military during World War II.

They were feted as trailblazers who made possible greater career advancement for later generations of women in uniform.

“I was able to serve and am able to say I am a veteran because of what you did,” said the program’s keynote speaker, Rachel Christina, human resources director for the Reserve Officer Training Corps at St. John’s University.

Christina said female veterans often feel isolated in a U.S. military in which men still outnumber women 6-1, and in which women have traditionally been barred from combat roles that provide the quickest route to career advancement.

She and others said women who return to civilian life often feel isolated in a society that mostly overlooks the contributions of women soldiers, and tends not to think of female veterans as likely to need physical or psychological help.

“We need to never be silent again,” Christina said.

Phoebe Ervin, who served in the Army during the Gulf and Iraq wars, choked back tears as she spoke of briefly falling into homelessness before two fellow female veterans — the American Legion post commander in Elmont, and another woman who is Nassau’s first female county veterans service officer — intervened.

They helped find her housing and provided emotional support, she said.

“If it wasn’t for other women in the military,” Ervin said, “I’d still be out in the street.”

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