Female Marine Vet Turns 100 in Style

Gladys Ruth Gallivan (Photo: Sgt. Taylor Morton)
Gladys Ruth Gallivan (Photo: Sgt. Taylor Morton)

SAN DIEGO — It was not her first birthday celebration of 2016, and it wasn't going to be the last. Gladys "Ruth" Gallivan of San Diego turned 100 on April 1, and if people want to keep throwing her parties, she is not inclined to stop them.

"She loves it," daughter-in-law Maya Pring said during Saturday's birthday fete thrown by the San Diego County chapter of the Women Marines Association, where Gallivan served as president for more than 10 years.

"She really does," added daughter-in-law Daphne Gallivan. "She's been looking forward to this since she turned 99."

Born 100 years ago in Darlington, Wis., Gladys Ruth Tresner enlisted in the Marines in 1943, one of the many women who took over military jobs on the homefront so men could head for the front lines. After boot camp at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and a stint at the Cherry Point Air Station (also in North Carolina), she volunteered to head out to what is now San Diego's Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.

Gallivan was honorably discharged in 1945, but the Marines had her for life. She went on to have a civilian career at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, retiring from her job as a general's assistant in 1986 after decades of service.


Sandwiched between an April 1 surprise party at MCRD and a celebratory dinner with friends, the Women Marines Association's lunchtime event at Veterans Village of San Diego served pots of tea and trays of finger sandwiches in honor of Gallivan's love of a tea party. There was also a surplus of respect and admiration in honor of the pioneering woman she was and the role model she continues to be.

"I am in awe of Ruth," said Maria Rodriguez Callejas, current president of the San Diego County Women Marines Association. "I think I have it easy compared to what women like her went through. Back then, you were supposed to be home raising a family. When you look at these women who went out and did something adventurous and have some stories to tell, they are inspiring to me. She is a trailblazer."

Ruth Tresner married Navy man Jim Gallivan in 1955, and the couple raised two sons, Michael and Daniel. The family settled in Serra Mesa, and Mike and Dan both graduated from Kearny High School. Mike married Daphne, and Dan married Maya. There are now three granddaughters in the family mix.

Ruth Gallivan's time as an enlisted Marine was short, but the fighting spirit seems to have settled in for good. She has survived a heart attack and breast cancer, and she has outlived her husband (who died in 1992) and both her siblings. Gallivan still cooks and cleans for herself and bakes cakes for family birthdays. She avoids all medications, but she will not say no to a beer or a glass of white Zinfandel. She didn't give up driving until two years ago.

"She is amazing for being 100," said daughter-in-law Pring, as she and her fellow attendees waited for Gallivan to make her entrance. "To me, she embodies what I think of as the military. She is very pro-America. She is very engaged. And she is very proud of her military time."

Gallivan entered the auditorium with a jaunty spring in her step and many hugs to share on the way to her table, which was decorated with a gold "100" balloon and a dainty china tea service. She was given a blue birthday sash and a flowered hat, along with a stack of birthday cards sent by admirers.

Then it was time for questions from the crowd. Her favorite memory? That would be the time in Cherry Point when she threw up on the floor of the plane taking her up to check the data from the weather balloon. ("They soon transferred me to Miramar," she said with a grin.)

Her secret to a long life? "Forget about getting old." Any good memories from boot camp? "No." And what about her 101st birthday? How might she celebrate that one?

"I'm sure it won't be as good as this," she said. "This is perfect."

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