Anna Mae Hays joined the Army Nurse Corps after the attack on Pearl Harbor. She served in World War II, Korea and in the early years of the Vietnam War she ran and greatly expanded the nurse corps, according to the Washington Post. Hays advocated for more resources for nursing, the Post reported, and “helped push through Army policy changes that paved the way for women in the military, including the 1970 establishment of maternity leave for female officers.”
In June 1970, shortly before she retired from the service, she became America's first female military general. As he gave Hays the silver star signifying her rank as a brigadier general, Gen. William West-moreland kissed her on the lips.
“It was, the Army chief of staff joked, all part of 'a new protocol for congratulating lady generals.' ”
Thankfully, that tradition didn't last. But Hays, and Elizabeth Hoisington, chief of the Women's Army Corps, who was made a general a few minutes after Hays, were the first of many women to join the upper military ranks. In 2008, the Army's Ann E. Dunwoody became the first female four-star general. In 2013, according to CNN, “69 of the 976 generals and admirals – 7.1 percent –were women.”
Westmoreland, who became a lightning rod for controversy not for kissing lady generals but for his running of the Vietnam War, told of when his wife, Kitsy, saw Hays at the hairdresser's and told her, “I wish you'd get married again.”
“When Gen. Hays asked why,” the Post wrote, “she replied, 'I just want some man to know what it's like to be married to a general.'”
Gen. Hays died Sunday at 97 in Washington, D.C.