Happy Birthday, Anna

Master Chief Petty Officer Anna Der-Vartanian

Ninety-nine years ago, on December 6, 1920, in Detroit, Michigan, a little girl named Anna Der-Vartanian was born into a family of Armenian refugees. When the proud parents Mateos and Arousiag held their newborn baby, they knew she would be special, but who could have imagined that this little girl would make history.

Left to right: Mateos Der-Vartanian, Dickran Sahagian and Ardavasd Kaloustian, circa 1940s, pictured outside The Findlater, which housed the Detroit St. Sarkis Armenian Church through the early 1960s (Photo: George Sarkisian)

Anna grew up in the Motor City and was a brilliant student with a remarkable capacity to learn and adapt. She learned five languages (Armenian, English, French, Spanish and German). After graduating from Southwestern High School, she attended Detroit Business University, but in December 1942, Anna felt it was her duty to be part of the war effort, so she joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC).

The Der-Vartanian family knew only too well the profound dangers of hatred and oppression, so many members decided to leave their lives and loved ones to confront the forces of tyranny. Anna’s sister, Jeanne Oliver, served in the U.S. Navy, while her brother Andrew joined the U.S. Army and fought for freedom in the Pacific theater. Anna’s mother Arousiag, who had launched an Armenian radio station in Detroit, also wanted to join the Navy, but decided to stay home and serve the American Red Cross.

In 1943, Anna left the WAAC to join the U.S. Navy as an Apprentice Seaman in the women’s unit known as “Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service” (WAVES). Throughout World War II, over 100,000 WAVES served in a wide variety of roles, such as mechanics, photographers, statisticians, control tower operators or top-secret code breakers. After basic training, Anna held an administrative position in Great Lakes, Illinois, before serving at the Bureau of Naval Personnel in Washington, DC.

Like many women who served in the Armed Forces in the forties, Anna was subjected to sarcasm and mockery, but nothing could stop this woman of character, courage and commitment from pursuing her career in the U.S. Navy. Anna remained 20 years in the Navy and was stationed in Washington, San Francisco, Boston, Hawaii, Paris and many other locations. Year after year, she overcame all the obstacles, fulfilled her duties and rose through the ranks.

In 1959, while serving at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, Anna Der-Vartanian made history by becoming the first woman in the U.S. Armed Forces to be promoted to the rank of Master Chief Petty Officer (E-9), the highest enlisted grade. She even received a personal letter from then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower congratulating her on her accomplishment.

Through hard work, dedication and perseverance, this outstanding lady broke a glass ceiling and paved the way for so many women. Anna had to make many sacrifices to achieve the impossible. When she joined the U.S. Navy, women were not allowed to serve in uniform after having children, so Anna never got married, devoting her whole life to her career.

After retiring from the Navy in 1963, she joined the CIA, where she became a specialist in European and Middle Eastern issues.

Master Chief Petty Officer Anna Der-Vartanian passed away on August 4, 2011 at the age of 90 and was laid to rest with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

As we celebrate her 99th birthday, let us all take a moment to salute and remember this extraordinary woman who made history and became one of the most respected and admired officers in the entire Armed Forces.

Rest in peace, Anna.

John Dekhane

John Dekhane

John Dekhane grew up in Paris before moving to the South of France. He works for a sport organization in Monaco. Since he was a child, he has always been interested in World War II with particular emphasis on American soldiers. In order to honor them, over the past years, he has located and purchased WWII U.S. artifacts in Europe and donated these items to more than a hundred museums in the United States.
John Dekhane

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  1. Thank you for this inspiring bio. My son is in the Canadian Navy, I know what it means to be away from home and what it means to be proud of what you do. We should add Anna Der-Vartanian’s name on who is who Armenian list.

  2. Anna Der Vartanian was the daughter of Mateos and Arousiag Der Vartanian. Arousiag was one of the first hosts of the Detroit Armenian Radio Hour in 1950s. Mateos and Arousiag were my mom’s (Zarry Sahagian Sarkisian) GodParents.
    Anna was one of my mom’s best and closest friends growing up in the Clark Park Area of Detroit. (george)

  3. As I recall,at some point the Navy started to Honor the Best Chief Petty Officer
    of the Year. Anna was selected and honored the first year of the award.

  4. Inspiring and well-written human interest story of a remarkable lady.

    I enjoy reading John Dekhane’s articles. Continue the exemplary writing.

  5. Anna had a sister named Roxie. She married a fellow named Ted Sahakian. In 1953, Roxie and Ted moved away from the Clark Park area of Detroit and onto the same street in Dearborn as my mom and dad, Harry and Zarry Sahagian Sarkisian. They lived across the street, 4 houses down.

    Ted and Roxie had three children, all girls. Suzanne was born in 1953. Diane was born about 1955, Carole was born in 1958 or 1959.

    I was born in 1952. Until I was about 14 years old, I could never beat Suzanne in a running race. She was a tremendous athlete. She became a highly successful attorney in Detroit.

    I am not sure about Diane’s biography. I think she studied ballet for a spell.

    Carole and my sister, Yeretzgeen Patty Sarkisian Dagley (1959-2009), St. Narek Armenian Church in Richmond, Heights Ohio, were best buddies until the Sahakians moved out of Dearborn in the mid 1960s.

    Yeretzgeen Patty Sarkisian Dagley was married to Der Haroutiun (Randy) Dagley (1956-2002), originally from North Andover, Massachusetts.

    ANDREW DerVARTANIAN (brother of Anna DerVartanian)

    Age 89, passed away on July 26, 2008. Beloved husband of Eleanor. Loving father of Mary (the late Mike) McComb, Matthew DerVartanian and Mark (Marcia) DerVartanian. Dear brother of Anna DerVartanian, Esther “Jeanne” (the late Claude) Oliver, Roxie (Ted) Sahakian and Ardis (Roger) Gregory and their families. Loving grandfather of Lisa (Gordon) Babcock, Nick (Alicia) Cacicedo, Rick (Michelle) Cacicedo, Andrew II (Cindy) DerVartanian and Kristen DerVartanian. Loving great-grandfather of six. Visitation Monday 2 p.m.-8 p.m. at the L.J. Griffin Funeral Home, 42600 Ford Rd., Canton (734) 981-1700. In state Tuesday 10 a.m. until 11 a.m. funeral at the funeral home. Family requests in lieu of flowers memorial donations to Leukemia Research Foundation. Arrangements entrusted to Edward Korkoian Funeral Home, (248) 541-8325. To send a personal condolence, go to http://www.edwardkorkoianfuneralhome.com
    Published in The Detroit News on July 28, 2008

  6. A true Armenian hero – a story I did not know. I recognize her Dad, Tateos, in the picture. He was a friend of my Arakelian Grandpa in Detroit.

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