This week’s America250 salute is Air Force Veteran Esther Blake.
Esther Blake was born in 1897 in Escambia, Alabama. Both of her sons, Julius and Tom, served in the Army Air Forces during World War II. In 1944, when Blake found out that enemy forces shot her son’s plane down over Belgium, she became deeply motivated to join the war efforts. Blake enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps. She served in many places in the U.S., including Alaska and the Yukon Territory.
Blake said she wanted to join military efforts to bring the war to an end sooner. She believed that if women could help by taking over clerical work, it would allow soldiers to focus on fighting. At that time, women were only allowed to work clerical and medical jobs in the Army Air Forces. Blake’s other son also went missing after enemy forces shot his plane in Europe. After the war, both Julius and Tom returned home safely. She briefly separated from the Army in 1945, reenlisted in 1947 and then served at Fort McPherson, Georgia.
In June 1948, President Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act that authorized women to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. With spots for women limited, the Air Force established a limit of 300 female officers and 4,000 enlisted women.
Determined to join the Air Force, she enlisted July 8, 1948, in the first minute of the first day that women could join. Blake’s granddaughter later said that Blake “was absolutely determined to be the first one there.” Blake joined the newly created Women in the Air Force (WAF). She was 51 years old when she enlisted.
Blake separated from the Air Force as a staff sergeant in 1954, due to a disability. She proceeded to work with the U.S. Civil Service at the Veterans Regional Headquarters in Montgomery, Alabama. Blake passed away on Oct. 17, 1979, at the age of 82. In 1987, the Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base honored Blake by naming one of the U.S. Air Force student dormitories after her.
“Staff Sergeant Blake’s spirit of service to country and duty to the Air Force lives on in the women of today’s Air Force,” said Chief Master Sgt. Timothy Horn, the command chief of the Air University.
We honor her service.
VA is highlighting 250 Veterans leading up to July 4, 2026, which marks 250 years of independence. Learn more about the count down to 250 years of the American spirit at https://america250.org/.
Writer: Paulina Riffey
Editors: Julia Pack and Theresa Lyon
Fact Checker: Giacomo Ferrari
Graphic Designer: Brittany Gorski