The Texas Women Veterans Day event in Houston on June 12 celebrated women who served in all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Honored at the event were three special women – U.S. Army veterans Dorothy Stroud and Isabelle Conner, and U.S. Air Force veteran Marion Bell. The honored veterans reside in Greatwood at Sugar Land – a retirement home in Fort Bend County.
Altogether, the women served in World War II, the Korean War, and during peacetime. They have been a part of history. One of the veterans was issued the Croix de Guerre (The Cross of War), a military decoration from France, which is awarded to military personnel allied to France during World War II for “distinguishing themselves by acts of heroism involving combat with enemy forces.”
During her career with the Army, Dorothy Stroud was the recipient of one such award. A message clerk assigned to the War Department after basic training, eventually being transferred to the administration office in France, she wrote up the necessary paperwork to order ammunitions, which American and French troops needed for one of the most historic battles, the Battle of the Bulge, from 1944-1945.
She served one tour, and then went back to school. The military, however, had other plans for her. They called her back into the Army in 1949 for the Korean War.
Eloquent and steadfast, Stroud said the military offers “wonderful opportunities.” While her tour at the time was considered a temporary assignment in the Army, Stroud said, “There was never any talk of retiring from the military, it was all volunteer. Now women go in and spend 20 years on active duty, and they get a full retirement. I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for them.”
At 21, most of her family was against her signing up, except for her mother.
“I was the youngest of seven,” she said. “My family kept telling me ‘you don’t want to do that,’ or ‘you don’t know where you’d end up or who you’d be living with.’ This was 1942, right after Pearl Harbor. So I went to my mother, who, almost by herself, raised all seven of us, because my father died early, looked at me and smiled and said ‘go for it.’ And I thought, well my mom has a lot of courage, so I do, too. And I went and I’m glad I did it.”
Assigned to Paris during the war, she spent winters where there was no hot water, (coal mines were behind enemy lines), and the city was kept dark, hidden behind blacked out windows. Remembering those days still bring a mixture of emotions for Stroud, and it’s heard in her voice as she recalls the end of World War II.
“I was in Paris when the war ended. And when the lights came back on and we got hot water back again, that was a very happy memory,” she said.
She spent her 24th birthday (Bastille Day, July 14), in France after the war ended.
“It was the first Bastille Day since the German army was taken out of there,” she said. “There was a big celebration. With my 97th birthday coming up, I keep thinking how exciting that birthday was and so much was going on. The war was over – finally.”
Her daughter, Leslie Woods, sais she has one amazing mom.
“She was always encouraging us to try new things, go do new things, learn new things. I have friends who say ‘if my mom could only be just a little bit of your mom.’”
U.S. Air Force veteran Marion Bell, now 90, struggled to find work during the late 1940s and found the military was her dream chance to see the world. The world was not at war at the time, yet she enlisted after seeing an advertisement.
“I said ‘why not try that?’ So I went to apply and was accepted,” she said.
Independent and direct, Bell said she “was 27 when I signed up, not a teeny bopper! I was older and I guess I had more experience than most of the others.”
During her enlistment, Bell quickly moved up the ranks. A natural leader, and a stately 5-foot-9, she was often put in leadership roles; first as an Element Leader or Wing Chief, in charge of the barracks during basic training, keeping everything and everyone organized.
“Everything buttoned, put away. Keeping barracks tidy – nothing out of place,” she said.
Bell said training officers would come into the barracks, and bounce a quarter off the rows of beds.
“If a quarter did not bounce off those beds, we were all in trouble!” she said.
Assigned to Lackland Air Force Base, Bell recalled an incident upon arriving at basic training that gave her a moment of uncertainly about her new career choice.
“We were all brought to Lackland, and to the barracks,” she said. “The barracks guard who was on duty had fallen asleep at the desk, and when the training officer saw that, he started screaming and yelling at her saying ‘If this had been wartime, you would have been sent to a firing squad!’”
Bell said after she saw firsthand how tough basic training was going to be, her first thought was “What have I got myself into?” Still, she enjoyed her time in service and she enjoys sharing stories of life on active duty with friends and family. Of her enlistment she said, “I enjoyed it all so much.”
Isabelle Conner, 95, attended The Children’s Hospital of Buffalo School of Nursing, and graduated in 1944. Yet her call to military service came from a radio chat heard by many from President Franklin Roosevelt. During one of his broadcasts, he asked graduating nursing students to join the military service to care for the hundreds of wounded servicemen.
Almost immediately Conner agreed to join the Army Nurse Corps as a second lieutenant. She was stationed at Fort Hamilton in New York, a location that eventually served as a hospital for wounded soldiers returning from Europe during World War II.
She was a surgical nurse at Hamilton until her discharge in 1945. Her husband served in the Navy aboard the USS Hornet in the Pacific, training and preparing for the invasion of Japan. After the war they both returned to her hometown of Lockport, N.Y., where she later served as a surgical nurse and worked in the labor and delivery section of Lockport Memorial Hospital and later as a school nurse.
“I had a calling to be a nurse and was a nurse all my life,” Conner said. “There was great motivation to sign up and volunteer at the time.”
When asked what inspired her to join the Army Nurse Corps, Conner said simply, “It was the thing to do.”
The date of June 12 was selected to celebrate Women Veterans Day because it coincides with the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, signed into law on June 12, 1948. The new law allowed women to serve as permanent, regular members of all the armed forces. Before the law was enacted (with the exception of nurses) women served in the military only in times of war. During the war, women enlisted as volunteers; when the war ended, they were released from duty.
Organizer for the event, LaShondra Jones, Ph.D., program coordinator for Catholic Charities Women Veteran Services, and a U.S. Marine, continues to focus on women veterans, finding ways to navigate the Veterans Administration and other services available to them, offering career guidance and counseling.
She and Catholic Charities have advocated with Texas in recent years to recognize June 12 as Texas Women Veterans Day.
“We are so excited this special day has been set aside in Texas to honor women veterans,” Jones said. “Reaching out and talking to so many veterans, many over the age of 90, and hearing their stories was exciting and inspirational. One veteran told me ‘Oh I didn’t even think it matters anymore, it was so long ago.’ I told them your service does matter – because it’s your shoulders that we stand on.”
A strong advocate for all things service oriented, including military tours for young women, Jones said an enlistment, “teaches discipline, leadership and of course the lifelong benefits that you received from being a veteran, like education, and military discounts. But whether it’s during peacetime or during a war, military service gives you a sense of pride for giving back to this nation.”
For more info on Texas Women Veterans Day, visit www.tvc.texas.gov/women-veterans/womenvetsday/, www.texvet.org/, or catholiccharities.org/catholic-charities-women-veterans-city-hall/.