In the summer of 2009 my mom fell and injured herself — not too seriously, but enough that she needed rehab — so we started the process of learning how to best help her. Because she was with the Women’s Army Corps during WWII, someone suggested that we try to get VA benefits for her, so I met with the VA representative about her case. While visiting with him, he asked me if she’d ever received her medals. I told him I had never seen any or ever heard her talk about them. As he was perusing her documents, his eyes suddenly lit up, and a big smile crossed his face. “She was a combat vet! I rarely see this!” He then explained to me that she was considered ‘combat’ because she was serving in the European combat zone. She worked in the Medical Records department in France and was in London when it was bombed by Germany.
When I was growing up, I often heard Mom tell stories of her years as a WAC, but until recently I never really understood that part of her life. Even now I can only ‘get it’ from a distance. Those years shaped her and solidified a value system that few of us today will ever understand.
Mom grew up on a military base because my grandfather was career military and fought under General Patton, and she spoke often of her ‘drill sergeant’ father (who died many years before I was born). So for a young woman to do something fairly unconventional for women at that time probably wasn’t too strange to those who knew her then — especially during WWII, when help was needed everywhere; even those who weren’t enlisted volunteered or sacrificed somewhere. And by becoming a WAC, Mom knew she could travel, which she much preferred over staying in a small dusty TX town.
Looking back on my childhood, I think I understand a little better why we moved so often; Mom wasn’t one to stay in one place very long. We either moved from one town to another or from one house to another — she got bored with her circumstances quickly and convinced my dad that it was time for a change. Now, I think some of that may have been a longing to find some of the excitement and variety she found and loved in the military.
One year after that initial meeting with the VA representative, he called me to say that he had requested and received her medals. At a Veteran’s Day ceremony, after more that 66 years, Mom was honored for the work she did during WWII. I was thrilled to be there with my family and hundreds of others who were there to honor her and 3 others from WWII.
My mom was 90 when she received her medals, and she passed away 6 months later. She wasn’t living in our area at that time; even in her late 80s she was still moving from one place to another (some things never change!), and I’ll never forget all those moves! But Veterans Day is the day I think about her most — and I think it is the day she’d want to be remembered.