Sally Murphy was the first women to go through flight school. She went on to serve in the Army for 27 years.
In mid-twentieth century Kansas, girls were expected to grow up to be teachers and wives. But Sally Murphy, who was born in Wichita in January 1949, was not like most girls. During her childhood, she was a tomboy who was drawn to the combat, helicopters and aviation shown in Vietnam War photographs.
Murphy graduated from Shawnee Mission West High School in 1967 and attended Kansas State College of Pittsburg. She earned a master’s degree in history in December 1972 and joined the Army one month later. Murphy’s career commenced at an 11-week orientation for the Army’s Women Army Corps program for women officers at Fort McClellan, Alabama. She also attended Military Intelligence School at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. Upon graduation, Murphy enrolled in Aviation School at Fort Rucker, Alabama, when it first opened to women.
On Murphy’s first day of Aviation School, the officer announced to the class that she was the first woman to go through flight school at Fort Rucker. The boos from classmates were only the beginning. A captain told her that that she was making a mockery of the flight suit she was wearing, and several civilian contractor flight instructors refused to work with her. Murphy was discriminated against but not harassed, because the policy at the time banned men and women from fighting together.
Murphy’s first assignment out of Fort Rucker was as an intelligence officer with the 330th Army Security Agency Company. She flew RU-21 aircraft over the border of Germany and the Soviet Union. She later flew Huey helicopters and commanded a company of the 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kansas, before returning to Germany in 1986 as commander of the 62nd Aviation Company that supported V Corps headquarters. In 1991, Murphy flew and maintained UH-1 and UH-60 helicopters and C-12 aircraft at Camp Zama, Japan, in the 78th Aviation Battalion.
Murphy was promoted to major and served in Headquarters, Department of the Army, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Force Development office for intelligence systems. She worked on the Army’s unmanned aerial vehicle program where she oversaw the master plan and its proposal for the first joint requirements document plan for unmanned aerial vehicles.
In 1999, after 27 years of service, Murphy retired as a colonel and was awarded the U.S. Army Freedom Team Salute Veteran Commendation. In a ceremony at Fort Myer in Arlington, Virginia, in 2009, she was recognized as a trailblazer who carved a path for women to move up the ranks in the Army. When she was recognized at the ceremony, women comprised just 15% of the Army and served in 91% of Army occupations.
A few days after graduating from flight school, Murphy married a Vietnam War combat Huey helicopter pilot. The couple had a son in 1980, who would follow in his parents’ footsteps and serve in Afghanistan and Iraq as a captain of the 82nd Airborne Division. Their son’s wife served two tours in Iraq. Their son died in 2009 when his parachute failed during a training mission in North Carolina. Murphy was proud that her husband, son and daughter-in-law all served in the Army.
We honor her service.
Writer: Erica MacSweeney
Editors: Julia Pack and Katie Wong
Fact Checker: Kinsley Ballas
Graphic Designer: Roni Ruadap