WWII Marine Trailblazer
By Michelle Weaver
My mother was the first trailblazing woman I ever knew. In 1967 she joined the Army and was a secretary for General Westmoreland in the Pentagon during the Vietnam war and in 1973, when I was two, she was the first woman accepted for officer candidate school in the Florida National Guard, where she served as a recruiter for three years. Over the years I have met other trailblazing women who have served our country and recently had the honor of meeting another, Sarah Frost. Sarah, who will be 95 this summer, was just 22 in July 1943 when she answered America’s call to “Free a Man to Fight.” I asked her to share her story.
Sarah Austin grew up just outside of Monroe, NC where her father kept a farm and worked at the
hardware store and her mother raised Sarah and her younger sister and two brothers. After high school
she went to college at UNC Greenboro and earned a Bachelors Degree in math and began teaching
math and coaching girl’s basketball near Winston-Salem, NC. Her father was an Army veteran
of WWI and her parents supported her decision to enlist. When she arrived at the recruiting office with her mother she said she intended to enlist in the Navy and become a WAVE (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services). The Marine recruiter had other ideas. The recruiting offices were located on the second floor of the post office in Charlotte, NC. When she asked him for directions to the Navy office he asked why she wanted to be a WAVE when she could be a Marine and be the best. She decided right then to join the Marine Corps; a decision she says gave her the wonderful life and opportunities she enjoyed in the Marine Corps and in the nearly 73 years since.
After meeting with the Marine recruiter she went by train from North Carolina to Atlanta, GA for her physical and in September 1943 she received her orders to report for boot camp at Camp Lejuene. She rode the bus from home to Camp Lejuene, which she says looked like a college campus. For the next six weeks “We marched everywhere, to our classes, to meals. We had to study everything about the Marine Corps: tradition, how to behave, how to dress.” Sarah said her first choice was to be assigned to an air station and when she graduated boot camp she received orders to MCAS Cherry Point, NC.
Sarah spent the month of December on mess duty at Cherry Point and in January 1944 she was sent to Radio School at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. For the first five months of 1944 Sarah attended classes with WAVES and women Marines to learn Morse code, typing and radio operation. Sarah continued a friendship with two women, Avis and Ann, that began at Camp Lejeune and they would spend weekends in Cincinnati, Dayton and Chicago and even got to see the poet Robert Frost speak at their school. At the end of May Sarah graduated from Radio school and received orders to Radio Materiel School in Omaha, Nebraska along with Avis and Ann.
In Omaha the WAVES and women Marines were billeted at the Fontanelle Hotel, four ladies to a room. They took their meals in the basement of the hotel and marched the several blocks to school everyday. The classes were in the back of an old store where she learned to build and repair radios. Before she graduated Radio Materiel School in October 1944 she was promoted to Cpl. Sarah, Avis and Ann all received orders to MCAS Santa Barbara-Goleta and arrived by train on October 24, 1944. “We had never been that far from home before and it was a long and boring train ride.”
In Santa Barbara the radio shop was located behind the air traffic control tower and Sarah worked shifts and took turns being on duty all night. There was a Coast Guard Station in Santa Barbara and Sarah said she liked to work on the radios on their boats because their food was better than what the Marines served. “When we were in Santa Barbara we would go to the USO or we would hitchhike to Los Angeles or San Francisco for the weekend. There were always at least two of us and it was not dangerous then.” In August 1945, about the end of the war, Sarah was promoted to Sgt.
On December 12, 1945 Sarah was discharged from the Marine Corps. Avis and Ann were discharged
at the same time and the three made plans to drive cross country, on Route 66 in Avis’ car, to their homes: Ann in Nebraska, Sarah in North Carolina and Avis in Massachusetts. The road trip also included Avis’ nephew and a dog. It snowed the entire way and the first part of the trip was made with a broken heater but they all made it home in time for Christmas. The three stayed in touch until Avis’ and Ann’s deaths.
Sarah had a job waiting for her when she got home: a family friend lined up a teaching job. Always the adaptable Marine Sarah took her two wool uniforms to be dyed, one blue and one brown, to wear to her new job. She was teaching where she had gone to school when her father suggested she use her GI Bill and further her education at Columbia University. She was accepted and started school in the fall. She earned a Masters Degree in math and continued her teaching career, first in Winston-Salem and later in Dublin, GA where she retired in 1985. It was in Winston-Salem where Sarah met her husband, Bill Frost, an Army veteran of WWII. They had two children, Betsy and Billy. Bill passed away in 1991. Today, Sarah keeps herself busy with her word puzzles, reading and Braves games, with the volume turned down if they’re losing. She says she wouldn’t take anything for her time in the Marine
Corps. I wouldn’t take anything for the opportunity to have met her and hear her trailblazing story.