Gail Reals, Class of 1953, Inducted in 2005
Gail Reals’s meteoric rise through the ranks of the Marine Corps was not born from a childhood dream of joining the military. It was born out of necessity. Gail’s father was a welder who earned enough to provide the necessities for the family of six. But when he died at the age of 40, her mother was left to care for the family on her own. She struggled to live on Social Security benefits, and wages earned as domestic worker in homes around the area.
“It didn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that I either had to make some money or my high school years were going to be rather bleak,” Gail explained. Anxious to ease the burden on her mother, Gail moved away from home and took a job as a live-in care provider for a family with five children.
After graduating from Manlius High School, Gail attended Powelson Business Institute and worked part time at an insurance company. She admits that her reasons for joining the Marine Corps are still somewhat of a mystery.
“The idea got into my head sometime during those high school years and I think in our yearbook people wrote that they expected me to join the military. Didn’t want to let them down, I guess,” she explained.
Gail entered the Marine Corps in 1954, and was assigned as a stenographer at the Marine Corps Schools, in Quantico, Virginia. She served a two-year tour in Paris, and returned to the United States as private secretary to the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps.
After completing training at the Woman Office Candidate Class in 1961, Gail returned to Headquarters Marine Corps as Commanding Officer of the Woman Marine Company and Adjutant, Woman Marine Detachment. From there, Gail worked her way up the ranks in a variety of assignments and training programs, in locales as diverse as Beirut, Lebanon, Parris Island, and Newport, Rhode Island.
Upon graduating from the Naval War College in Newport, as the only woman in a class of 150 men, she returned overseas as the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-I, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, on Okinowa. Ultimately, she was promoted to General Officer grade in 1985, the first woman to hold this position in the history of the Marine Corps.
Her decorations and medals include the Legion of Merit, the Navy Commendation Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Navy Achievement Medal, three Meritorious Unit Commendations and the National Defense Service Medal.
After retirement Brigadier General Reals went on to earn a college degree at George Mason University, and was proclaimed in 1998 to be a “Woman of Achievement” by New York Governor George Pataki.
“The Marine Corps was, and is, a male dominated organization,” Gail said, “and early on I was content to do my job and follow along as well as I could. Later as the rules or laws began to change and women Marines began to be less a separate group with the Corps, it became important for senior officers to do what we could to prove our value.”
In her spare time Gail enjoys reading and traveling. Last summer she visited Alaska with a small group of people during a 3-month motor home trip. She is also active in the League of Women Voters.