Alumna Dorothy “Dottie” Harris documents her time as a woman in the military through a fictional book called “1951 From Khaki to Air Force Blue.”
According to its Amazon description, the book tells the story of Lucy Leigh Simms, who became a woman in the Air Force in 1951 after the Air Force became a separate branch of the military and women were allowed to permanently serve. The time also is after the start of the Korean War in 1950.
"Deciding it was her patriotic duty, Lucy joined the Air Force. She received her basic training at old Kelly Air Field, not Lackland, which was overcrowded with men and had been investigated by the Senate," the Amazon description reads.
"At the completion of her technical training she was sent to James Connelly Air Force Base in Waco, Texas, where she was the first WAF in the newly activated 3565th WAF squadron. Although the Air Force was fully integrated, there were airmen who felt it should remain an all-white Air Force. Having been born in the North, Lucy found segregation hard to accept and was involved in a few unpleasant incidents because of her convictions."
Although a fictional book, the book is rooted in Harris' reality.
"All of the experiences in my book are taken from my memories of events that happened while I was in the Air Force," Harris said. "Many actually happened to me. Others were taken from events that I witnessed."
Harris said it's difficult to give a simple snapshot of military life at that time, which she said became a job and everyday routine, but without today's conveniences of air conditioning, cellphones, computers, copiers and television.
"Life in 1951 was very different from life today," Harris said.
Joining the military right after high school wasn't what Harris had planned. Harris wanted to go to college, but she didn't have the means at that time. College would come after her military service, marriage and children.
"I wasn't drawn to the military. The Air Force recruiter did it. He stopped at my lunch table three different times in October of 1950," Harris said. "After the third time I was convinced and enlisted."
Harris was living with her grandparents outside of Pittsburgh at the time.
"In January of 1951, I, and six other young women from the Pittsburgh area, were inducted. Before leaving we were interviewed by the newspaper and videotaped. We felt like celebrities," she said.
The book is a revision from a previous book Harris had written years ago that she found packed away in a box.
"It took me a little over three years to complete the book," Harris said. "I wrote the book for something to occupy my time. The story is one that should be told and can only be told by someone who experienced it. It is something that will never be found in a history book."
So far the response to Harris' book has been positive. One Amazon reader known as Kauai Mike rated it with five stars saying, "This is a great look at what life must have been like for some of our first enlisted women in the services. From the ups and downs of daily base life to the lasting friendships made, I truly enjoyed the read. I will recommend it to my friends. Thank you for recounting your days in the service and of finding your first love!"
After her stint in the military, Harris married Jim Wolff and had four children and later adopted one more. But her desire to go to college hadn't subsided.
In the spring of 1963, a 32-year-old Harris decided it was time. Because she and her family lived in Emlenton at the time, her husband taught her to drive to get to school and her grandparents watched her youngest son while she was taking classes.
She gained a secondary education degree in English in 1966 from what was then Clarion State and taught at Allegheny-Clarion Valley for two years and at Keystone High School for nine years.
She and her husband would later divorce after 23 years and she would marry Chuck Harris, who died in 2005, after they were married for 25 years. She now lives with her daughter, Jayme Collier, who is a '78 CU alum, in Grapevine, Texas.
Her book is available in paperback for $19.99 on Amazon.