Sergeant Molly would approve

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Kudos to U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta for removing the military ban on women in combat. Mary Hays (Molly Pitcher) would probably ask, "What took so long?"

On June 28, 1778, the Continental Army under Gen. George Washington attacked the rear of the British Army column as they left Monmouth Courthouse. At the battle Mary Hays spent much of the early day carrying water to soldiers and artillerymen, often under heavy fire from British troops. According to the Wikipedia account, sometime during the battle, her husband William Hays collapsed, either wounded or suffering from heat exhaustion. As her husband was carried off the battlefield, Mary Hays took his place at the cannon. For the rest of the day, in the heat of battle, Mary continued to "swab and load" the cannon using her husband's ramrod. At one point, a British musket ball or cannon ball flew between her legs and tore off the bottom of her skirt. Mary supposedly said, "Well, that could have been worse," and went back to loading the cannon.

The fighting was stopped due to gathering darkness. Gen. George Washington and his commanders expected the battle to renew the following day, but the British forces retreated during the night. After the battle, Gen. Washington asked about the woman whom he had seen loading a cannon on the battlefield. In commemoration of her courage, he issued Mary Hays a warrant as a noncommissioned officer. Afterward, she was known as "Sergeant Molly," a nickname that she used for the rest of her life.

If you travel the New Jersey turnpike you might want to stop at the Molly Pitcher Travel Plaza. Though many historians disagree whether the story is fact or folklore, Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley (Molly Pitcher), wife of William Hays, was given enough credence to her claim that the Pennsylvania Legislature granted her a pension. She is buried in Carlisle, Pa., near a statue bearing the name of Molly Pitcher.

MARTIN L. POMERANTZ
Whitehall


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