You could say that Alice Tate comes from a military family.
Although Tate, whose military career spanned 35 years, did not follow a parent or grandparent’s footsteps when she joined the Army, research into her family’s history has led her to discover both great-grandfathers fought in the Civil War and other ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War.
Wanted to be History Teacher
The 72-year-old Lake Forest resident truly enjoys researching her genealogy, and doing so has helped her to trace connections to Quakers, military generals and even professional baseball players. On some occasions, she has traveled to meet with distant relatives and share family history.
She has lived in Lake Forest since 1972, and has been a member of American Legion Post 264 for seven years. She occasionally volunteers for the Lake County Forest Preserve. She is a tour guide for Edward Ryerson Jr.’s summer home at Ryerson woods, and Tate also helps clear the trails as part of the trail patrol. As someone who is knowledgeable about her family history and local history, she’s easily mistaken for a historian.
“I had always wanted to be a history teacher,” said Tate, who grew up on a family farm in Clearfield County, Penn.
A high school teacher convinced her to switch to a biology major. During her senior year at Indiana University in Pennsylvania, a biology classmate convinced Tate to go into a month-long officer training program for the Army at Fort McClellan.
“There was no obligation. It was a paid vacation in Alabama,” she said.
Although her mother took a little convincing, Tate began her career in 1961 as a platoon leader and company commander for women in basic medical training at Fort Sam Houston in Texas.
From 1964 to 1965, Tate spent 19 months on Okinawa Island, Japan. At the time, the United States was occupying Okinawa and nearby islands.
“I remember seeing giant craters (on the island) and asking, ‘What are those?’” Tate said. “Bombs, of course.”
See the World
At Okinawa, Tate was a personnel officer, approving and filing paperwork such as requests for relocation. Afterward, she took a 60-day leave and was able to “hitchhike with the Air Force” to see much of the Far East, including Thailand, Bangkok, Cambodia, India, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan.
Tate’s love of travel goes hand in hand with how much she enjoyed her military experience. She still travels regularly, visiting China in 2009 and Switzerland in 2010. In July, she plans to travel with her sister to Frankfurt, Germany, and Nice, France.
She is close with her sister now, but admits that her constant travel with the military kept her from attending family events while she was on active duty.
In 1966, Tate was transferred to Fort Eustis, Va., where she acted as a civilian liaison. At Fort Eustis, Tate met her husband, a Vietnam War veteran. “Back then (the military) wasn’t very accommodating of married couples. The attitude was, for women, that you’re married to the Army,” she said.
“Most veterans of war will not talk about it,” said Tate, of her husband’s military experience. “Our experiences are very different.”
She went to work as a morale and welfare officer at Fort Sheridan, Ill., in 1969, and stayed there until moving into the reserves from 1972 to 1995. At Fort Sheridan, Tate used her graduate degrees in education, psychology and social work.
“In the Medical Service Corps, sometimes the nurses outranked the doctors,” she said. “Ranking there is based more on civilian relationships. The boss was still the doctor. It was an adjustment to get used to the informality.”
Found Acceptance in the Military
Tate has much to say about the changes for women in the military over the last 30 years.
“In many of my positions, I was the only female officer. I was always treated like a sister. They had a policy then, never swear in front of a woman. Nowadays I imagine the women swear worse than the sailors,” she said with a smile.
“The guys accepted me. In all my assignments, I was accepted,” she added.
Tate said that if anyone made an off-color joke, she merely would pretend she did not know what they were getting at.
“I was one of the boys. There was a degree of protection,” she said. If she had any difficulty gaining respect, it was only because she looked much younger than she was.
She remembers changes after the Women’s Army Corps was abolished in 1978 and WAC officers were integrated into other branches.
“When I was at Fort Sheridan, people would say ‘Oh! I’ve never seen a female colonel before.’ I was appalled by that,” Tate said. “At the WAC training center in Alabama, the staff had been entirely female.”
It shocks Tate that there has not been an uproar over the military allowing women to serve in combat zones. “I never got to fire a weapon. Now, women get the same combat training that the men do,” she said.
“I don’t think the average American realizes the sacrifices of veterans, especially in the last 12 years or so,” she continued. “In particular, the reservists are put under a lot of stress, working civilian jobs. The average American goes about their daily life completely oblivious to what goes on.”
Tate loved her time working for America’s biggest employer.
“I only wish I was young enough to do it again,” she said.