A common phrase women veterans have often had to tell people is they are not the daughter, spouse, or parent of a service member, but the service member. Marine Cpl. Jean Platania has had to say this many times in her life. Anyone who served and meets her can see that Devil Dog-can-do attitude in her, but if you ask her, she feels her story is not worth telling, as she did not serve “over there.” Nothing could be further from the case. As with many women who joined, and with the even fewer numbers joining the Marines during her time, she clearly has an interesting story.
When World War II broke out Platania, a Williamsburg, Brooklyn girl, was all of 9 years old. She watched as her uncle and cousin enlisted in the Marines, and thought to herself, That is what I want to do when I am old enough. She struggles to try and hold back her excitement when explaining, even at that age, her love for this country and her desire to serve. In the 1950s, when Platania was coming of age to be able to join, for a man to join the service without a parent’s signature they had to be 18, but for girls it was 21. At 18, Platania went to her father and asked him to sign the permission slip so she could be a Marine; hoping she would change her mind, he waited six months to sign his permission and on Aug. 4, 1952, at the age of 19, Platania would head to boot camp. Though Platania would not be among the first women to join the Marines, it was only in 1948 that the first eight women were sworn in a regular and not reserve Marines.
Out of the 84 women that went to boot camp with her, only about 72 graduated, a marked difference from the 750 to 1000 females at various stages of training on a given day in the Marines. She spent the first two years of her three-year enlistment at El Toro in the motor pool as a driver, and assigned to reenlistment and recruiting in support of the flight squadron in the airfield. She would later go on to Henderson Hall in Washington, D.C., where she worked at the Marine Corps Institute. Cpl. Platania would leave the Marine Corps on Aug. 3, 1955.
While Platania did not go to Korea during the war, she earned her National Defense Medal and her Good Conduct Medal for her service. One of her crowning achievements, though, was Section 18 of her DD214, which stated, “Recommend for Reenlistment.” Platania had thought about reupping in the Corps, but she met her husband, an Air Force veteran who served in Korea, and wanted to start a family—a thing we take for granted, but back then, women were not allowed to get married or have children while in service. Platania would work a few years in a construction company after her release from service, but then became a stay-at-home wife and mother. When asked if she had any regrets, for Platania, the answer was simple: she should have gone into the medical field in the Marines.
Platania is a member of the Korean War and Defense Veterans Association, the Marine Corps League and Women Marine’s Association of Long Island, helping to raise awareness to female veterans’ needs and support homeless female veterans. She is also a field representative for the Women in Military Service for America (WIMSA) and is dedicated to preserving the history of women serving in the armed forces.