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Mary L. Stremlow, 88, Marine Corps colonel chronicled role of women

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Mary L. Stremlow, 88, Marine Corps colonel chronicled role of women
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May 10, 1934 – Sept. 3, 2022

Mary L. Stremlow, a retired Marine Corps colonel who wrote and lectured about sexism in the armed forces and the role of women in the Marines, died Sept. 3 after a short period of declining health. She was 88. Born Mary L. Vertalino in Buffalo, the oldest of four children, she was part of a family of military women. Two of her aunts, Petrina Nigro Harman and Rose Nigro De George, served in the women's branch of the Marine Corps in World War II. One of her sisters, Marine Corps Major Carol Diliberto, served during the Vietnam War.

She attended Holy Family School and Nardin Academy. While attending Buffalo State Teachers College, she took part in a summer program that led to a commission as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps when she graduated in 1955. Col. Stremlow was executive officer in a woman recruit training battalion at Parris Island, S.C.; inspector and instructor for the Women's Reserve Platoon in the Third Infantry Battalion in Boston, Mass.; an instructor at the Woman Officer School at Quantico, Va.; and the woman officer selection officer for the First Marine Corps District.

While stationed at the Marine Corps Museum in Washington, D.C., she wrote "A History of the Women Marines, 1946-1977." For young women considering a career in the armed forces, she produced another book, "Coping with Sexism in the Military."

Col. Stremlow also wrote "Free a Marine to Fight: Women Marines in World War II" for a 50th anniversary Marine Corps monograph series about the war.

As a reservist, she was officer in charge of the Marine Corps Mobilization Station in Buffalo. She was awarded the Legion of Merit when she retired in 1987. She joined a management training program in 1979 at the Bethlehem Steel plant in Lackawanna, starting on the loading docks.

After the plant closed, she was an administrative assistant for Sierra Research in Cheektowaga. She also taught home economics at South Park High School.

In 1992, she was appointed by Gov. Mario Cuomo to be a deputy director in the State Division of Veterans Affairs, heading its Buffalo office and overseeing its 25-county western division.

She also was chairman of its Advisory Committee on Environmental Hazards. Previously, she had been deputy director in charge of the eastern division in Albany.

Col. Stremlow served as vice president of the board of directors of Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park, and was second vice president of the Western New York Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America.

She also was a member of the Secretary of the Navy's Retiree Council, the Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee for Women Veterans, the Albany County Vietnam Veterans Memorial Committee and the national boards of the Marine Corps Reserve Officers Association and the Retired Officers Association.

The State Assembly named her Woman Veteran of the Year in 1994.

For three years she served on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee on Women Veterans and, as a public speaker, called attention to the overlooked role women played in the military.

"American women soldiers, sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen – through every war – kept our troops fed, and paid, and supplied," Col. Stremlow said to the crowd at the Moving Wall, a half-sized replica of the National Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., that visited Chestnut Ridge Park in Orchard Park in 1989.

"They repaired planes, drove trucks, rigged parachutes and were gunnery instructors," she said. "They were the nurses on Anzio Beach, in Korea and in Vietnam. On their jungle fatigues they wore the blood of dying and injured Americans. And to this day, they cannot forget the young faces."

For 20 years, until she was 80, Col. Stremlow made an annual six-week visit to Italy, where she learned to speak Italian and cook Italian cuisine.

Her husband, George J. Stremlow, played football in Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, under coach Marv Levy. A Marine Corps lieutenant colonel who earned two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star during two tours in the Vietnam War, he died in 1983. Survivors include two sisters, Carol Diliberto and Elaine Rebman; and nieces and nephews.

A Memorial Mass was offered Sept. 10 in Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 3148 Abbott Road, Orchard Park.

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