Recently I have had the great pleasure to be exchanging emails with Betty Harper the niece of Lucille McClarren. In her quest to know more about her Aunt and her illustrious career she has shared a bit with us in hopes that others who knew her will share memories of Lucille with her. Below are her recollections.
By Betty Harper
My aunt was Lucille McClarren, the first private enlisted on February 13, 1943. She passed away in 1990, but prior to that time she told me some things about her Marine experience. I have a copy of the Klondike Bulletin, Masontown, PA, dated March 4, 1943, that provides some of the more personal information about her swearing in. But when checking the internet, although her name comes up many, many times, there is nothing beyond a reference to her as the first enlisted Marine. Years ago, while hospitalized at the Washington DC Vet Hospital, my aunt told me she had been the model for the uniform, a poster girl, and had shared the podium with Eleanor Roosevelt, recruiting other women. She went to Hunter College and became the first female drill Sargent. (Her death certificate notes her as S/Sgt.) She told me about traveling by train to Camp Pendleton where she was responsible for dispatching soldiers home from the Pacific Theatre. I don’t know her career progression after the war, but she did finish her career as Secretary to the Secretary of the Navy in the Pentagon. I know she was there during the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missle Crisis as she mentioned JFK and Bobby being in her boss’ office. In the late 50’s or early 60’s she married William Desmarais, an employee of the FBI. (I believe he was an FBI fingerprint specialist.) Growing up, I adored my aunt; but my family didn’t
talk about her unique career. I am now 64 and eager to know more. I would appreciate any direction you could send me that might fill in the gaps.
Below is the article that was printed in the local newspaper.
March 4, 1943
Private Lucille Ellen McClarren, attractive 20-year-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Danniel E. McClarren of Nemacolin, has won the distinctive honor of being the first private of the United States to join the U. S. Marine Corps Women’s Reserves. Miss McClarren has been employed as a stenographer in the war department at Washington D.C. since March 1941 and made her home at 404 Oakwood Street, S. E. that city prior to her enlistment Tuesday, February 16, 1943. (This is inaccurate. She was enlisted Saturday, February 13, 1943.)
The popular district girl enjoyed a short visit with her parents last week and reported in Washington for duty, Monday morning of this week. Born at Graceton, Pa., the first girl Marine private in the country attended the Nemacolin grade schools and is a graduate of Cumberland Township high school, Carmichaels, Greene County, in the Class of 1940.
Following her enlistment, Private McClarren was sworn in by Captain H. W. Branson, of the Marine Officer Procurement Unit. Now a reserve, she will be transferred to active duty with a starting salary of $50 a month plus a $200 allowance for uniforms. She
expects to be ordered to report for training at Hunter College.
Despite her transfer of allegiance from the Army to the Marines, fellow-workers in the War Department entertained Pvt. McClarren at the swank Lotus Club in Washington Friday evening, December 19. Attending the affair were two other Nemacolin girls: Mildred Wilson and Patricia Selvin (should be Slevin), both close friends of the honored guest.
Saturday, February 20, Pvt. McClarren was a guest at the Press Building during the Marine Day celebration. Upon her arrival the new recruit looked in vain for another member of her sex–but — none were there. Amid deafening applause she was escorted to
the front of the huge room where many high officers of the Marines had assembled. She was personally congratulated by Brigadier General Robert L. Denig, Public Relations Chief of the Marines.
Called upon for a speech, the Nemacolin girl responded but while here last week confided to friends that she had no more idea what she said than “the man in the moon.
Pvt. McClarren said: “With the Marine band and about 1600 fighting Marines, press reporters and high officials present, and me the only girl in the auditorium, you can imagine my excitement and joy. I was swamped for autographs and finally had to be escorted from the hall by an honor guard. Little did I expect when I left Nemacolin that one day I would receive all this publicity. But you can tell everyone I’ll give my best and endeavor to emulate the brave men in the Marines by doing every assignment
given me to the very best of my ability.
I am happy and proud to be the first girl Marine private in World War II.”