COLUMBUS, Ohio (WTVN) -- "I tell you. When I put my uniform on, that was the proudest moment of my life."
Ruby Gilliam served in World War II, in the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), in 1945 and 1946.
Gilliam was first to vocalize her memories of the American military from more than sixty years ago, a time immediately following a period when women could not enlist. With frequent moments of levity, laughter and at times, thunderous applause from their audience, the women described memories of inspiration, dedication, patriotism, love-at-first-sight, and changing times.
"One day, my mother and I were there and I said to my mother, 'one day, I will wear a uniform', and her reply was, 'no, Ruby, you never will. Women do not join the military'," she said.
Gilliam and six other female veterans spoke during the Ohio Department of Veterans' Affairs Women's Panel Discussion, at the Ohio History Connection near I-71 and 17th Avenue.
Along with Gilliam, Elva Pounders, of Akron, shared her experiences.
"I was gung-ho to join the Navy. The recruiter blew me off, he says 'I'm going to lunch'. So I walk into the next office and there's this good-lookin' Marine sitting there," said Elva Pounders, who joined the Marine Corps in 1960. Pounders went to Vietnam twice, to drop off supplies. She retired from the Navy as First Sergeant in 1990.
The hour-long discussion began partly with an introduction from Col. Chip Tansill, head of the Department of Veterans Services. "We have 848,000 veterans in Ohio. I want to tell you, we have over 67,000 women veterans here. What a number," Tansill said.
K.J. Roose, who now lives in Franklin County, spoke of how the military changed her life. "I went through a brief spell of homelessness and was working two dead-end jobs as a waitress, so the Navy came as a time when I really needed it in my life." Roose received an honorable discharge from the Navy in 2009.
Also on the panel were Roberta Mershon, a Vietnam vet now living in Canal Winchester; Patricia Hanson, a Vietnam vet now living in Sandusky; Angela Belts, an Operation Desert Shield / Desert Storm vet now living in Reynoldsburg; and Tamara Gonzalez, a veteran of the 121st Air Refueling Wing, now living in Columbus.