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    Long Island native continues legacy of New York women in Marine Corps history

    Aye Ma'am

    Photo By Cpl. Tia Carr | U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Lily Banhegyesi, a drill master with Marine Corps Recruit...... read more read more



    Story by Sgt. Heather Atherton 

    1st Marine Corps District

    At 17 years old and with her parents’ permission, Lily Banhegyesi made a commitment to serve when she raised her right hand and joined the United States Marine Corps.

    Staff Sgt. Banhegyesi is a first generation American whose parents emigrated from Hungary and settled in Syosset, a small hamlet in Long Island, New York. At only six years old, like other Americans in that time, she witnessed the twin towers collapse, changing the course of her life forever. From that point on, she knew she wanted to serve her country; adding to the legacy of female Marines.

    By the time Banhegyesi was born, women had been serving in the Marine Corps for 77 years. In August 1918, the first women enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. Like Banhegyesi, many of the first women to break the “glass ceiling,” came from New York.

    New York native Ruth Cheney Streeter joined the Marines in 1943, the same year the United States Marine Corps Women’s Reserve was instituted. Streeter commissioned as the first female major and was appointed Director of Women Marine Reservists.

    During this time, Bea Arthur, also a New York native, who is now known for the hit TV show The Golden Girls, would be one of the very first to enlist into this organization at the age of 21, serving under her real name, Bernice Frankel from 1943-1945. In 1946, the Reserve Women Marines were disbanded, and most female reserve Marines returned to their civilian lives.

    Two years later, the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act of 1948 authorized a small number of female officers, warrant officers and roughly 1,000 enlisted personnel to gradually integrate into the “regular Corps”. In November that year, eight enlisted women swore in as regular Marines, never again to be known as “Women Marines”.

    Following this, in 1949, the first two African American women enlisted, the second being Annie Lamb, also a New York native.

    Although initially, all enlisted women trained at the U.S. Naval Training School at Hunter College in the Bronx, New York, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island would replace Hunter College as the training location for female Marines late in 1949.

    The legacy of these New York Women continues today with Marines like Banhegyesi.

    Banhegyesi attributes her desire to become a Marine to what she saw on 9/11. After successfully completing recruit training, she served with a primary military occupational specialty of 2651, Special Intelligence System Administrator/Communicator; however, the inspiration her drill instructors instilled in her remained long after her entry-level training.

    “My drill instructors, they inspired me so much,” said Banhegyesi. “Seeing what they did, yeah, that was my goal.”

    Banhegyesi earned the rank of sergeant shortly before re-enlisting and took the opportunity to volunteer for drill instructor duty in connection with her commitment to serve another four years. This was a new and different challenge.

    Like many other drill instructors, she faced trials along the way. She was an experienced drill instructor in her company, primarily responsible to train recruits in close order drill movements, instilling precision and discipline in preparation for evaluation in ceremonial formation and marching. Banhegyesi’s platoon failed the initial drill evaluation, which she said was mentally and socially difficult, especially in a small professional environment where there is constant scrutiny.

    But Banhegyesi persevered through this difficult point in her career, advancing to become a senior drill instructor. She was on her second training cycle as a senior drill instructor when she received an unexpected call.

    “I got a call randomly, from my first sergeant and sergeant major,” she said. “They asked me if I wanted to be the drill master, which obviously came as a shock because I failed drill.”

    This was unheard of, and she was skeptical at first, wondering how someone in her position, who had failed at the task could be selected to hold one of the most prestigious positions for a drill instructor.

    Banhegyesi turned to the one person she knew would help her make this decision, her mom.

    “I told her about the opportunity, and she cut me off mid-sentence,” Banhegyesi said.

    “She said, ‘Take the job because these leaders see something in you that you don't even see in yourself. Who cares if you've had failures in the past!?’ And she said something so powerful that it will stick with me forever, ‘be a lion and don't worry about what the sheep say,’” Banhegyesi said.

    Banhegyesi took the position with pride, studying the manuals every second she could, perfecting where she once had faults, and assisting others who struggled as she once did. She felt as though she had a better understanding because of the struggles she had faced early on.

    She was the face of her battalion for all things pertaining to drill and ceremonies, ensuring traditions and standards were upheld. In her words, for the remainder of her time as a drill instructor, she held the power to influence the way future generations of Marines conduct ceremonial drill.

    After successfully completing her tour of duty at Parris Island, she returned to her primary MOS and now proudly utilizes the lessons and leadership traits learned during those years at her current unit in California.

    “Never let your failures hold you back and prevent you from being great,” Banhegyesi said, reminiscing on the struggles and progress she’s made so far in her career.

    From only 300 women serving in clerical positions in 1918, to 1,000 enlisted women in 1948, to today, women have made bounding progress, achieving myriad milestones to include advancing in roles such as Female Engagement Teams, infantry and Marine Forces Special Operations Command.

    Throughout the decades, New York Marines like Streeter, Arthur, Lamb and Banhegyesi have played key roles in building a legacy of necessary change, strengthening the Marine Corps and equipping it to face and overcome all manner of challenges in defense of the nation.



    Date Taken: 08.31.2022
    Date Posted: 08.31.2022 18:43
    Story ID: 428449
    Location: NEW YORK, NY, US 
    Hometown: SYOSSET, NY, US

    Web Views: 577
    Downloads: 1