African American Women Who made US Military History

Three African American women who made history for their role in the US military are Irene Trowell-Harris, Marcelite Harris, and Danyell Wilson.

Irene Trowell-Harris

Irene Trowell-Harris was in 1987 the first black female officer in the National Guard. She grew up on a small cotton farm in Aiken, South Carolina and even from a young age knew that she wanted to work with planes.

After graduating from high school, Irene trained as a nurse but her ambition to work with planes never died. Irene became the first lieutenant in New York’s Air National Guard. She then went on to join the Aerospace School of Medicine in Texas and trained as a flight nurse in 1964.

Irene trained specifically to be able to care for military personnel, their families, and diplomatic officials while they were flying on domestic and international flights. She flew in this role for 11 years and also trained to be a flight nurse trainer.

Irene was with the Air Force and Air National Guard for 38 years and during her career she continued her studies earning a master’s degree in public health from Yale and a doctorate in health education from Columbia. Irene retired in 1993 but continues to work with Veterans Affairs.

Marcelite Harris

Marcelite Harris was a Brigadier General in the US Air Force and was the first black female to be made a Major General.

Marcelite was born in 1943 in Houston, Texas. After graduating from university with a degree in speech and drama, she attended Officer Training School with the US Air Force. She became the first female aircraft maintenance officer, one of the first female air officers, and the first female Director of Maintenance for the US Air Force.

Later in her career, Marcelite was a social aide to President Carter; she received many awards for her service, including the Bronze Star, the Presidential Unit Citation, and the Vietnam Service Medal.

She retired in 1997 as a major general. She had worked her way up to be the highest ranking female officer in the US Air Force and America’s highest-ranking African American female in the Department of Defense.

Danyell Wilson

Danyell Wilson was a US Army Sergeant and was the first black female to be given the responsibility of guarding Arlington National Cemetery’s ‘Tomb of the Unknowns’.

Danyell was born in 1974 in Montgomery, Alabama, and first enlisted with the Army in 1993. She was assigned to the Military Police Company, 3rd US Infantry Regiment as a military police officer.

Danyell had to undergo a trial period lasting around eight months before being assigned to the Honor Guard Company of The Old Guard. The Old Guard is the oldest unit in the US Army and is known to be one of the Army’s most elite units.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE