Bettie Glassey’s friends were all getting married and settling down when she graduated high school in the early ’60s.
“I didn’t want to do that,” Glassey said. “I wanted to see the world.”
So at the age of 18, she joined the Marine Corps in 1962. The Oak Harbor resident is now president of the Women Marines Association North Sound Chapter.
This year the association celebrated 100 years of women Marine service members. Olpha May Johnson is credited as being the first woman Marine, joining Aug. 13, 1918. Around 300 other women also joined that year. Women became a permanent part of the Marine Corps in 1948.
Glassey served for three years and 10 months, working as a clerk at the Air War College, Henderson Hall and at a Naval hospital liaison office.
Glassey had always wanted to be a nurse, but her family couldn’t afford to send her to college. Her time at the hospital offered her an opportunity to help in that setting, although in a different respect.
“I spent most of my time in the hospital, not just in my job but after work playing games with the guys,” she said. “I just tried to build the morale up.”
She remembered one man who had lost his legs and sight after stepping on a land mine. As doctors tried to wean him off morphine, she would come to his room and spend hours reading to him.
Glassey continued to work in hospital settings for most of her professional life after the Marines. Finding a career direction is a major reason she supports other people to join the service.
“It’s something that teaches you discipline, teaches you leadership. You get a lot of skills from being in the military, ” Glassey said. “…It lets you learn what you’re good at.”
As president of the local Women Marines Association, she encourages JROTC cadets to meet with the veterans and listen to stories about their experiences. She’s also spoken to women currently serving over the years, and said she’s glad opportunities for women have expanded.
“I would’ve loved to have gone to flight school,” she said.
A major she worked for took her up in a helicopter, and she said she instantly fell in love with it. He even began to informally teach her how to fly, but her lessons ended when she got transferred.
Glassey’s time in the Marines was extended 10 months, but she said she would’ve have liked to continue even longer. However, her family all lived on the West Coast and she wanted to be closer to them.
She moved to Whidbey Island in 2010 and immediately became involved in the WMA. Mostly for the camaraderie, which she appreciates after losing contact with many of her friends from her platoon. She also spends her free time volunteering at the VA office and helping organizations such as Outreach And Resource Services for Women Veterans (OARS).
”When you leave the service, sometimes it’s very hard,” she said. “Because you’re such a family in the service, and you get lost sometimes when you get out.”