Ray, Elizabeth

This project has been completed. You can view the transcribed interview with Elizabeth Ray and other military veterans here.


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    Interview 1 with Elizabeth Ray (Interviewer: Gwen C. Murray)

    Interview 2 with Elizabeth Ray (Interviewer: Gwen C. Murray)

Elizabeth N. Ray (who was known as “Betty”) was born on May 31, 1913 in Oklahoma, to Shaw D. and Madie Helen Smart Ray. Her family moved to Duncan, Oklahoma, when she was a teenager, and later to Oklahoma City. Ray received a journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma in 1934. She worked as a reporter and eventually as the city editor of the Anadarko, Oklahoma Daily News. Ray moved to Washington, D.C., in 1940 to take a civilian public relations position with the War Department, Women’s Interest Section, Bureau of Public Relations.

In 1942, after the United States entered World War II, Ray joined the Women's Army Corps (WACs). Ray reached the rank of Colonel during her military service. This was the beginning of a long and distinguished military career. During World War II, she served as commanding officer of a WAC (Women's Army Corps) platoon attached to the 15th Air Force in Bari, Italy and North Africa. She received the Bronze Star for “meritorious service in connection with operations against the enemy not involving actual combat.”

Commissioned a regular Air Force captain in 1949, Ray served as assistant public information officer for the Continental Air Command, and in 1953 she was appointed deputy director of the WAF (Women in the Air Force). In 1955 she was named executive secretary to the defense advisory committee on women in the armed services. Then a lieutenant colonel, she was assigned to the Strategic Air Command at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, in 1958, where she served as chief of the SAC promotion and records branch. In 1961 President John F. Kennedy appointed Lieutenant Colonel Ray director of Women in the Air Force, the highest rank to which a woman of her day could aspire, and promoted her to full Colonel. She was the first woman to achieve this rank.

When her commission expired in 1965, Betty retired from the WAF to return to her journalistic roots in her adopted home state of Oklahoma, becoming public relations director at Oklahoma College of Liberal Arts (now University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma) in Chickasha, Oklahoma. Colonel Elizabeth N. Ray died on December 7, 2011.