Marine Veteran Gail Reals is today’s Veteran of the Day.
Gail Reals was born in 1935 in Fayetteville, New York. When Reals was a high school freshman, her father passed away. So, at age 14 she left her family to earn money as a live-in babysitter.
After graduating from high school, Reals stated that she “looked around and asked [herself], ‘What am I going to do, work for the five-and-dime?’” She eventually decided to join the Marine Corps in 1954. While Reals initially planned to serve in the military for just three years, she ultimately served over 30, breaking down gender barriers and inspiring future generations of servicewomen along the way.
Reals completed boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina, and her first assignment was as a stenographer at Quantico Marine Base. When she joined the Marines, there were less than 2,000 women in the Corps. Reals, like many servicewomen at the time, faced significant discrimination. When reflecting on her service, she explained that she often felt a “lack of acceptance… women had to go to an extra mile to stay in place.” However, her sense of humor and passion for reading and visiting museums helped her advance through the ranks. During the interview for officer candidate selection, she was quizzed about the artist who sculpted the Venus de Milo. Relying on her experience visiting museums, she impressed the panel with the correct answer – the artist was unknown at the time.
In 1961, Reals became a second lieutenant. She served command jobs in Lebanon, France and Japan, before being appointed executive officer and later commanding officer at the Women’s Recruit Training Battalion in 1971. She completed the Marine Corps Command and Staff College at Quantico in 1974, and in 1985, she became the second woman to be appointed brigadier general. Reals was the first woman to become a commanding general of a U.S. Marine base and she oversaw operations at Marine Corps Base Quantico until she retired in 1990.
Reals never married or had children. She noted, “In my early days you either became an officer or got married – one of the two, but not both. Back then, you couldn’t have dependent children under 18 years.” However, she added, “Quantico feels like home. The Marines feel like my family. When I retire, I’ll probably be around here forever with my wheelchair and cane.”
Gail Reals was awarded the Legion of Merit and is recognized as a notable woman of Arlington, Virginia.
Thank you for your service!
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Writer: Maggie Allegar
Editors: Theresa Lyon, Wilson S. Sainvil
Researcher: Giacomo Ferrari
Graphic Designer: Brittany Gorski