On this day in 1928, a heroine is born. Barbara Dulinsky would go on to become a United States Marine—and the first female Marine to serve in a combat zone.
Nor was it just any combat zone. MSgt. Dulinsky had volunteered to go to Vietnam.
By the time she arrived for that assignment, Dulinsky had been serving in the Marine Corps for nearly two decades. She’d advanced steadily through the ranks until she was a Senior Drill Instructor for female Marines at Parris Island, South Carolina.
When the Marines began looking for a woman to go overseas, Dulinsky was a natural choice.
“Care was taken to select mature, stable WMs,” Colonel Mary V. Stremlow later wrote, “who could be expected to adapt to strange surroundings and cope in an emergency . . . . There was no shortage of volunteers, but not all met the criteria.”
Dulinsky landed in Vietnam on March 18, 1967. She was to be stationed at Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) Headquarters in Saigon. Soon, other women would follow where she’d led. Ultimately, 28 enlisted female Marines and 8 officers would serve in Vietnam between 1967 and 1973, with roughly a dozen women present at any given moment in time.
Initially, these Marines were housed at the Ambassador Hotel, but they were moved a few times, finally landing in housing near the MACV headquarters. They didn’t always have eating facilities, so they cooked on hot plates or electric skillets in their rooms. Since there were no laundry facilities, they paid Vietnamese maids to wash their uniforms.
“[L]ife was a normal as it could be for living and working in a combat zone,” Sergeant Mary Glaudel-DeZurik remembered. “Normal meaning going to work in a military bus with grates on the window; watching out for cabs that had no door handles on the inside and the ‘cowboys’ who sped around the city streets on their mopeds. I had my watch stolen off my arm before I could even react.”
The Tet Offensive changed everything, of course. Initially, the women were stranded in their rooms while enemy missiles flew through the air nearby.
“It’s hard to believe that a war is going on around me,” Captain Vera Mae Jones wrote. “I sit here calmly typing this letter and yet can get up, walk to a window, and watch the helicopters making machine gun and rocket strikes in the area of the golf course which is about three blocks away. At night, I lie in bed and listen to the mortar rounds going off. The streets, which are normally crowded with traffic, are virtually bare . . . . MSgt. Dulinsky, Cpl Hensley, and Cpl Wilson finally got into work this afternoon. Cpls Hensley and Wilson plan to spend the night.”
In the weeks that followed, the women would work long days, sometimes enduring mortar and sniper fire attacks on the MACV headquarters where they were stationed.
They also swapped their dress skirts and heels for jungle fatigues and boots.
“We are still on a 24-hour curfew,” Dulinsky wrote, “with all hands in utilities . . . . Right now, most of us don’t look the picture of ‘The New Image.’ Whew! Hardly! I can’t determine at night, if I’m pooped from the work day or from carrying around these anvils tied to my feet called combat boots.”
They persevered and got through it, of course. Dulinsky finally went home in late 1969.
“Barbara epitomized the crusty senior staff NCO and had been a hard as nails drill instructor,” said Mitzi Manning, Dulinsky’s friend and fellow Marine. “But beneath all that was one of the most intelligent and artistic women I have known in the Corps.”
Dulinsky passed of natural causes in 1995. She was surely happy to see how her service in Vietnam opened the door for female Marines to offer even more in service to our country.
Semper Fi, Marine.
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Barbara Dulinsky, Master Sergeant, U.S. Marine Corps (Foundation for Women Warriors)
Col. Mary V. Stremlow, A History Of The Women Marines, 1946-1977 (U.S. Marine Corps, History and Museums Division; 1986)
Donna A. Lowery, Women Vietnam Veterans: Our Untold Stories (2015)
James Clark, The First Female Marine To Serve In A Combat Zone Volunteered For Vietnam (Task and Purpose; March 18, 2016)
Lisa Tendrich Frank, An Encyclopedia of American Women at War: From the Home Front to the Battlefields (2013)
Luke Lorenz, Highlighting Our Heroes: Barbara J. Dulinsky (Navy League of the United States)