Mobile, Ala. (WKRG) — Cynthia House joins an elite list of veterans with distinguished service, not only on active duty but also in retirement, supporting veterans causes. She was selected as the 2021 Veteran of the Year by the South Alabama Veterans Council.

House is the first female veteran to be selected for the honor.

“These are the veterans that I look up to–and to have my name added to that list, it’s, in fact, a really big deal,” said House.

House, a Mobile native, was on a full scholarship to nursing school in the early ’70s when she decided to join the Marine Corps. House decided to join the Marine Corps after her brother presented her with a challenge when they were watching an episode of Gomer Pile.

She said, “At the time, Gomer Pyle was on–and Carol Burnett came through wearing that woman Marine uniform and I said, ooh–I’m going to be a lady sergeant like Carol Burnett.  And my older brother said to me out loud, ‘we’re in the middle of a war, and women can’t make in the military–and they definitely can’t make it in the Marine Corps.”

Challenge accepted. She spent twenty-three years in the Corps, rising to the rank of Master Gunnery sergeant—and she will still respond when referred to as ‘Master Gunny’–or ‘Master Guns.’  It’s also a title that she believes is much more accepting in the male-dominated veteran community.

“And if you ever catch them, they’ll always call me Master Guns. And I think it’s easier to say–tell your wife, ‘I’m talking to Master Guns’ as opposed to, ‘Hey, I’m talking to Cynthia on the phone right now.’ You wouldn’t do that,” said House.

During her more than two decades in the Corps, she saw monumental changes regarding the roles of women Marines. In her early days, women held mostly administrative roles.

“And I don’t think I realized that the branch I was going into was one that was going to teach me how to walk, how to stand–what shade of lipstick to wear. That’s what they taught women at the time.”

To coin an old ad phrase, the Marine Corps has come a long way, baby. Changes included first, the uniform.
House said, “When they said they would modify the uniform what it meant was the women would start wearing the men’s uniform as opposed to anything else.”

And somewhere along the way, male and female companies were combined. “It was hard for the Marine Corps to do that,” said House. “And I was smack dab in the middle of it”, said House.

House spends her time working with the Monfort Point Marine Association. The Association is a group that represents another monumental change for the Marine Corps. Monfort Point Marines were the first black recruits to the Corps during World War Two and trained on a separate base that is now part of Camp Lejuene, North Carolina.

It’s also why House got involved with other veterans’ issues.

“Part of the reason I did it is not too many people know about the Monfort Point Marine Association–so part of getting involved with other groups, frankly, was to teach them a little bit about us,” said House.