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(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Maxine Conder holds a picture of herself taken in the late 1950s in her Layton home Friday, Nov. 8, 2013. Conder was the second female admiral in U.S. naval history. She served as a nurse in Korea and in administrative roles during Vietnam. Conder and several other veterans will be honored on Veterans Day at the University of Utah.
Utah woman who rose to admiral among day’s honorees
Veterans Day » Rear admiral is among 11 Utahns who will be honored at the U.
First Published Nov 10 2013 12:43 pm • Last Updated Nov 11 2013 05:53 pm

In a cacophony of mid-’70s political upheaval, Maxine Conder earned her stripes.

Vietnam had soured the public on the military. Congress was waffling on funding for the armed services. Feminism was redefining the role of women, and not everyone was pleased.

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Veterans Day events

Here are a sampling of events to honor veterans. Visit www.sltrib.com for a more complete listing.

University of Utah

The U. will honor 11 Utah veterans, including the second female admiral, at its 16th annual Veterans Day Commemoration Ceremony. The tribute includes a panel discussion, a 21-cannon salute, an awards ceremony and a concert. The panel discussion, “Women in Combat Arms,” begins at 8:45 a.m. The awards ceremony starts at 11 a.m.

When » 8:30 a.m. Monday

Where » University of Utah Olpin Union, 200 S. Central Campus Drive

Tickets » Free

Concert

The Utah National Guard will present the 58th annual Veterans Day Concert featuring the Utah National Guard’s 23rd Army Band and the combined Granite School District Choir.

When » 7 p.m. Monday

Where » Jon M. Huntsman Center, 1825 E. South Campus Drive

Tickets » Free

Taylorsville

Taylorsville city and the United Veterans Council will host the 2013 Veterans Day Parade and Program in Taylorsville. The parade grand marshal is Pearl Harbor Veteran Marion Kesler. Any veterans may walk in the parade. Following the parade, at 12:15 p.m., there will be a program at the Taylorsville Veterans Memorial on the south side of Taylorsville City Hall. The keynote speaker is Congressman Jim Matheson. Visit www.taylorsvilleut.gov for information.

When » 11 a.m. Monday

Where » Valley Regional Park, 5100 S. 2700 West, Taylorsville

Tickets » Free

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So Conder knew she was about to occupy a very hot seat when she received word in 1975 that she had been appointed the second female admiral in U.S. naval history.

"I was excited and sick to my stomach," Conder said. "While I was honored to be promoted, I knew there would be many, many problems."

Conder is one of 11 veterans to be honored Monday at the University of Utah’s 16th annual Veterans Day Commemoration Ceremony. The ceremony begins 11 a.m. at the Olpin Union Building, 200 S. Central Campus Drive.

As director of the Navy Nurse Corps, Conder was in charge of 2,600 nurses stationed across the world — a position that hadn’t even been available to a woman when Conder joined the Navy in 1951 as a 25-year-old nurse from Tooele, deployed to a hospital ship in Korea. At the time, women could not ascend the command structure of any military branch. Now 87, Conder cannot deny her role as a waymaker for women in the military.

"I’ll admit I’m proud of that," she said reluctantly.

But she reflects on her 28-year career not as a loud feminist statement, but simply a good professional fit.

"I truly liked nursing, and I truly liked the Navy," Conder said. "I always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. ... I’ve never even had a bad duty station. It was either the people were so special, or the place was so special. I think I enjoyed each and every one of them."

After Korea, Conder was transferred to Guam, which she describes as "delightful" despite working in Quonset huts, banging on walls of patients’ rooms to scare away rats, and living on a base still threatened by live ammunition left from the Japanese occupation of World War II.


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More pesky, she said, were the persistent gender inequalities in the military’s mid-century culture. As she rose through the ranks, she found acceptance and respect from her male peers — but they often were oblivious to the challenges facing women. When Conder enlisted, women could not be married and remain on active duty. Then women couldn’t remain on duty if they had children, even stepchildren. If an enlisted woman was married to a civilian, he wasn’t considered a dependent or eligible for spousal benefits.

"Most men did not have any idea that those were the laws," she said.

As Conder accepted promotion after promotion, she saw a dual significance to her pioneering role. On a grander philosophical and political level, Conder recognizes her career coincided with social forces of the time and helped draw that progress into the military.

"There were a lot of people saying, ‘Let’s use our women better,’ " Conder recalled. "It was just the times. The ERA [Equal Rights Amendment] was just getting started, and women’s positions and roles were being looked at and really pushed. The military accepted there were going to have to be changes."

But on a practical level, Condor’s accomplishments dealt largely with the nitty-gritties of military life. She often was the lone advocate for enlisted women working under a command structure that wasn’t yet in the habit of considering their needs in day-to-day decisions, like uniform updates.

"The men would say, ‘Just make smaller-sized shoes for the women. Make smaller-sized uniforms for the women,’ " apparently unaware that such a wardrobe would be neither functional nor professional, Conder said.

"It wasn’t malicious — they really just thought it could be done that way," Conder said. "The men really tried, but sometimes they just forgot."

The most significant changes, though, were to policies that prevented willing and able women from serving if they had family.

"We worked hard and long to get so many laws changed over those years, to improve the lots of women in the military," Conder said. "I was proud that I was there."

Monday’s events at the University begin with a panel discussion on women in combat roles at 8:45 a.m. in the Olpin ballroom.

"This is a perfect discussion to have as the U.S. is in the process of integrating women into the ranks of all branches of the military, including combat positions," Tammy McCreery, moderator and former Army captain said in a press statement. "Our panelists have all seen combat and bring a personal perspective on the current segregated force and where the military is headed regarding implementing gender neutrality by 2016."

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