Pregnant? You’re outta here!

Meet Nancy Sumner: former Marine, mother of a daughter and two sons, grandmother of a granddaughter and two grandsons.

Nancy, returning home after boot camp in June 1967.

When Nancy joined the Marines in 1967, regulations stipulated that if a woman became pregnant, she was immediately discharged. Nancy is one of those many women who didn’t want to leave the Corps. This is her story.

What is your hometown, and when did you join? How old were you? Can you tell us a little about why you wanted to join the Marines? Your MOS, and what being a Marine meant to you?

My hometown is Elwood, Ind., and I was 18 when I enlisted in 1967. The reason I joined the Marines was because my hometown boyfriend had joined the Marines about nine months earlier right out of high school. And I had no aspirations of going to college because lack of interest and, financially, I knew my mom couldn’t afford that expense. My boyfriend was going to be gone for four years and I decided that I could join and “see the world” while he was gone, too!

At the time, I was working at a little hamburger place in Elwood called Mr. Happy Burger. A couple of times during the month, the service recruiters would come to that little place and recruit the guys. I never thought too much about it until one day this Marine Gunnery Sgt. made a comment that I should join, too! The seed was planted, and I think with his next visit I was talking and making a commitment! Two years would be the plan, get out and “see the world”! My boyfriend had a fit. How could I do such a thing? My mom thought it was a great idea! She understood as she was an Army WAC in WWII. My father was in the Navy in WWII. So of course I HAD to be a Marine! (A few years later my brother would join the Air Force!)

I don’t remember what my MOS# was except that I was in company supply and learned to keypunch. As the computer came into being, that training helped me excel at different office jobs.

I loved being a Marine. Still do! The Marine Corps instilled confidence and strength within me. When I have a difficult time, the Marine kicks in with the attitude, I can do this! I’ve had quite a life of ups and downs, but I was always able to see it through because I’m a Marine! I even have a front license plate that says Lady Marine. I am very proud of that.

Did you always know you wanted children at some point? In other words, when you enlisted, did anyone explain you’d have to choose one day between motherhood and the Corps? If a recruiter had told you this, would you still have enlisted?

When I joined, I was still just a kid, and having children was the furtherest thing in my mind. I had growing to do and places to see and experiences to remember. Having a child was not even considered. I don’t ever recall a conversation with the recruiter about children and the Corps.

When did you become pregnant? Tell us a little about being forced to leave the Corps. How did this make you feel?

I enlisted in April, and the following February, the boyfriend and I married. We were never stationed together but came home on leave at the same time and decided to get married. Then we hoped that I could get transferred to be with him. That didn’t happen. I was on the East Coast and the new husband was on the West Coast. We came home on leave again right before he was sent to Vietnam. This must have been the end of July. After the leave, I go east and he goes off to Vietnam. About the last week of August, I find out that I’m pregnant. By the end of the first week of September, I’m out of the Corps. I didn’t want to get out! What was I going to do, go back home? The main thing in the eyes of the Marine Corps was that I was to be discharged immediately. Poof, pack your things, goodbye.

How did you spend your last day as a Marine?

The final few days spent in the Corps were very quiet. I wasn’t allowed to do anything! I couldn’t go to work. I was to stay pretty much in the barracks. During this time there was a field inspection. That was the only good thing… I didn’t have to participate! I said my goodbyes to my friends and the people I worked with and sold some of my stuff to friends so I wouldn’t have to have shipped home. One thing I regret selling now was my uniforms. I saved my chevrons and pins and tags, but the rest was gone, except one uniform to travel home in. In hindsight, I could just kick myself for doing that!

How did you spend your first day as a civilian?

I don’t remember much of my first day as a civilian except traveling home on the plane and having family meet me at the airport. I felt like I disappointed my family and myself for not completing my enlistment. I was still healthy and feeling good and received an honorable discharge, but was still disappointed.

If the woman you are today could speak in the ear of the woman she was back then, what would you whisper to her?

Nancy Sumner, nearly 44 years to the day since returning from boot camp.

I’d tell her not to go to the doctor! Suck it up, buttercup, and enjoy as much as you can!

Is there anything else you would like to add about your experience as a Marine? About being a mother?

I loved being a Marine. I loved meeting others from across the United States. Coming from a small town, I would never have had an opportunity like that. I just wish I would have kept in contact with more of my friends then. I’ve been able to reconnect with three others from my platoon, but there are many others I’d like to find again.

As for being a mother… our baby died at two weeks, and my husband was called home from the war. But after a month’s leave he had to go back. Eighteen months after we were married we finally were able to set up housekeeping and live together. In the ensuing years, we would have three more children. Two were sons who also enlisted in the service. One a Marine and one in the Army National Guard.

I guess being a Marine, and then a Marine wife, you have this toughness or strength in knowing that whatever may be laid at your feet, you can handle. I always tell everyone that I served two years when actually that wasn’t the case. It just seems easier not to have to explain why I got out and answer subsequent questions. It has been a long time, but I still have wonderful memories of my time spent in the Corps. I’m very proud of what I have accomplished in my life and very proud that I am a Marine.

Thank you, Nancy, for your service, and for sharing your story.


About Tracy Crow

I was one of the first Marine moms. Today, I'm the nonfiction editor at Prime Number Magazine, and teach journalism and creative writing at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. My memoir, Eyes Right: Confessions from a Woman Marine, will be released in April 2012 by the University of Nebraska Press.
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10 Responses to Pregnant? You’re outta here!

  1. Nancy Sumner says:

    Tracy…. not Former Marine…. Always a Marine!! LOL!!! Thanks for doing this… can’t wait for others to respond!!!

  2. Anita Gillespie says:

    Thank very much for your service, I am very proud of you & everyone that has service our great country.

    • Linda Ead says:

      Nancy, Thank you for your service–and it is true–once a Marine always a Marine!!
      I am proud of you and everyone that serves this great country of ours–where would our freedoms be if people like you did not serve, fight and die for our country. God Bless each and every one of you.
      Thanks for being my friend. I appreciate our friendship.

  3. Kay Smith says:

    A moving story Nancy. It was the same within the Women’s Royal Any Corps, British Army when I was an Army Musician, though things have changed with the introduction of the Equal Opportunities Act etc. I’ve keptt in touch with quite a few of my ex colleagues, many of them now on facebook. However, like you I often wonder what happened to the others. It’s a privilege to call you my friend. Your family and friends are proud of you & rightly so.

  4. Josh says:

    That’s a great story! I’m incrediby proud to have you as my Mom – Marine and all! You’re a wonderful Mom to all four of your children! Oh, and P.S. Go ARMY! Love, ~Your Son

    • Nancy Sumner says:

      Josh please don’t be surprised if there are not a bunch of Bull-Dogs at your door when you try to leave!!! LOL!!! Love You Son!!

  5. wm4313 says:

    GREAT STORY Nancy!!!! Breaks my heart that you HAD to get out! Glad to see you “kept on charging”! Semper Fi! ; )

  6. Linda Paul says:

    I just found this blog. Your story is so much like my own! But the Marines changed me for the better, even though I was only in for a short time. Your story spoke to me, thank you for putting it out there.

  7. Thanks for finally talking about >Pregnant?
    Youre outta here! | First Marine Moms <Liked it!

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