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WWII Camp Lejeune Training

Marine Corps Women Reserves Training Camp Lejeune

FREE A MARINE TO FIGHT: Women Marines in World War II
by Colonel Mary V Stremlow, USMCR (Ret)


Planners originally thought to use existing Navy resources and facilities for all MCWR recruiting and training, but Marines soon saw the advantage of having their own schools. It wasn’t only that Mount Holyoke and Hunter Colleges were overcrowded and stretched beyond reasonable limits by the number of women arriving every week. There was a larger motive for moving MCWR schools to Camp Lejeune and, simply, it was the famed Marine esprit de corps.Camp Lejeune, where thousands of Marines were preparing for deployment overseas was the largest Marine training base on the East Coast and offered sobering opportunities for the women to observe field exercises and weapons demonstrations, and to see the faces of the young men they would free to fight.

Major Hurst, commanding officer of the Marine Detachment at Mount Holyoke, understood almost immediately the drawbacks of trying to indoctrinate and train Marines in such patently civilian surroundings as a college campus. Less than a month after training began he wrote Brigadier General Waller:

In drawing these up [training schedules], I found myself wishing more and more that we could include some weapons instructions, at least pistol, for our women . . . . I have found that the women come into the Marine Corps expecting to learn to shoot and I, of course, would like to see them become the first women’s reserve in the country to take up the specialty of their men if Headquarters considers the idea at all feasible. I wouldn’t have had the nerve to suggest it if Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt hadn’t asked me on her visit last week how soon they were going to learn to shoot. She expressed surprise at learning that the women of the U.S. were not learning as much about weapons as the women of other countries . . . .

Nearly a half century later, the retired 23d Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Wallace M. Greene, Jr., expressed a like sentiment when he wrote in 1990:

I commenced to realize the meaning of sexism in the armed forces while I was a Marine Corps observer with the British army during the Battle for Britain. During a night bombing raid against London, I watched the women gunners in an antiaircraft battery battle the incoming German planes. I suddenly asked myself, “Why aren’t our women — able, loyal, and patriotic as they are — permitted to participate in this fashion?”

The Marine Corps Women’s Reserve Schools — officer candidate and boot training along with certain specialist schools — opened in July 1943 under the command of Colonel John M. Arthur. Officer candidates and recruits in training at Mount Holyoke and Hunter Colleges were transferred to Camp Lejeune, New River, North Carolina, where nearly 19,000 women became Marines during World War II.

Women's Reserve Schools headquarters
The headquarters of the Women’s Reserve Schools at Camp Lejeune supervised the recruit training of more than 18,000 women during the course of World War II. Photo courtesy of Mary R. Rich

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Discipline of WR’s in the 40’s

FREE A MARINE TO FIGHT: Women Marines in World War II
by Colonel Mary V Stremlow, USMCR (Ret)


Discipline of WR’s in the 40’s

As early as November 1942, Headquarters wisely considered a disciplinary plan for the Women’s Reserve. The other services were no help since the WAACs still served with the Army but were not part of it and the Navy had no predetermined policy except to say they would treat problems according to principles generally used for men with whatever modifications might be necessary for special instances such as sex offenses.

Not knowing what to expect and unwilling to leave it to chance, Marines wisely established discipline policies for Women Reservists:

1. Distinctions between officers and enlisted personnel would, in general, be the same as made between officers and enlisted men of the regular Marine Corps.

2. Officers would exercise normal disciplinary functions and MCWR officers would have similar responsibility when they attained appropriate rank and command.

3. Establishment of brigs or post prisons for the confinement of women was not contemplated, but confinement to quarters was deemed appropriate.

4. Exclusive of sentences involving confinement, punishment would be awarded as it was for officers and men of the regular Marine Corps.

5. Trial by court-martial would be recommended only in serious cases, particularly when confinement seemed a possibility.

6. For offenses not warranting trial, separation from service would be by the most expeditious means in accordance with policies applicable to men.

Little time was wasted on female offenders, and fortunately, there were relatively few problems. Because of their communal, intense desire to be accepted by Marines and approved by the general public, women Marines were their own severest critics and peer pressure to walk a tight line proved very effective. The records show only 36 enlisted women separated out of the total of 18,000 as a result of general and summary courts-martial. When officers resigned to escape a general court martial, their discharge was “under other than honorable conditions.”

Unauthorized absences — usually less than 10 days — accounted for the most common infractions; violations of regulations (uniform, fraternization, etc.) followed. Unlike earlier policies governing female military nurses, marriage was a cause for neither discharge nor punishment, and pregnancy was considered a medical rather than disciplinary case.

Much as with the men, punishment included confinement to quarters, loss of pay, reduction in rank, extra police duties, and in extreme cases, disciplinary discharges. However, the severity of punishment meted out to men and women accused of sex offenses differed markedly and the female officers balked at the harsh treatment of WRs in these instances.

Marines are the acknowledged masters in matters of discipline and morale, but there was no history to help them bridge the gender gap when the women landed. These women were not pliant teenagers, but rather adults, all 20 years old or older. Some were married, some had children, and a few had grandchildren. Since it was a time when females were expected to adhere to near-Victorian standards, military leaders assumed a paternalistic attitude and the inevitable occurred — grown, mature women were often treated like school girls. The senior women officers, many with roots in academia, were often more guilty than the men.

A galling but unchallenged rule was that women on board a base, unlike men of equal rank, could not have an automobile. It added to the allure of assignment to the motor pool that the drivers of trucks, jeeps, and buses were more mobile than their sisters.

Irene and Madelene Spencer
Twin sisters Irene and Madelene Spencer toured New England with the War Bond drive show, “Direct Hit,” which starred boxing champion Jack Dempsey, who was a Coast Guard officer, cowboy star Gene Autry, and comedian Frank Fontaine. Photo courtesy of Irene and Madelene Spencer

Luckily, Colonel Streeter was able to balance high standards of behavior with an earthy understanding of human nature and she seemed to know just when to tighten the reins and when to turn her head. She was pragmatic about discreet instances of fraternization and she recognized that when dealing with men and women, some things could not be strictly regulated. She was a gifted leader who subscribed to the theory that “. . . the most able commanders, be they men or women, are those who take care of their people and who keep them out of trouble by anticipating the problems that may confront them.”

She expected women officers, regardless of their assignment, to share responsibility for the morale and welfare of enlisted women and this policy was sacred until separate women’s units were abolished in the 1970s. Colonel Streeter was rightfully proud that the Women’s Reserve organized a recreation and education service long before the Special Services Division was formed, and she credited it with the high morale of the women Marines. Yet, in the end, it was her own good sense, concern for her women, pride in the Marine Corps, and determination that sustained the wartime WRs.

Women Marines on bond tour
Following the devastation visited upon the carrier Franklin in operations off Japan, as seen in the picture held by these Women Marines, they were sent on a bond tour in 1945, which took them to Dallas, Texas, where this picture was taken. Photo courtesy of Evelyn Wallman Gins

Excerpted from the Book:  FREE A MARINE TO FIGHT: Women Marines in World War II
by Colonel Mary V Stremlow, USMCR (Ret)

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The Face of Veteran Homelessness

By Jamie DePaola

It’s not easy for anyone to look in the mirror and proclaim, “I’m ignorant!”  Recently, I have discovered that’s exactly how I have been with regard to the homeless; in particular, homeless veterans.

This newsflash to my own face, came about after welcoming a sister Marine to my Area and learning about her unfortunate situation.  She didn’t seem to fit the “profile” of a homeless veteran.  Then I wondered, “What exactly is the profile of a homeless veteran?”

With the holiday season amidst all the good cheer, I have paused to try to see the face of homeless veterans.  Who are they?  How did they get here?  I have seen them on corners with signs saying they will work for food.  I used to imagine myself yelling out to them that “There is a job two buildings away looking to hire staff, “Go apply!”   I didn’t take the time to understand how they became homeless, nor how can I help them get out of the homeless situation.

Like many, I got caught up in the spirit of the traditional toys-for-tots programs and good will toward senior citizens during the holidays.   I just didn’t know how bad things were for veterans; which is why I now say I was ignorant.  I didn’t know how much they appreciated a new pair of socks or a new coat.  I didn’t take the time to “know” them.  With all the great programs that the military offers to help veterans transition back to civilian life, I also didn’t understand why they would commit suicide when they came home.  Here’s a summary of what I believe, and some of what I’ve learned in a very short time:

Profile of a homeless veteran:

  1. They came home from the military, …and then they became homeless.
  2. At a young age, they’ve done more and seen more in a lifetime — from their military training to the hostile environments they were immersed in.  They put everything on the line with sharpened skills like no other.  They were in charge of the world and believed they could do anything to make our world safer.  They are trained to be leaders and have courage and skills to take on whatever mission assigned to them.
  3. Compared to their past military life, being around civilians and family can be too provincial.  They came home changed, but the rest of their family/friends have not changed.  Emotionally, they don’t fit in.  Nobody “gets” them.  Their friends/family can’t accept who they’ve become as they are trying to adapt back to civilian life as they once knew.  Their family/friends often wonder “what happened to them or what’s wrong with them?”
  4. They often become estranged from loved ones due to combat or non-combat PTSD, and many females due to MST that leads to PTSD.  They have a difficult time relating to others at home.  They cannot emotionally get the turmoil out of their heads and family/friends do not know how to help because they haven’t walked a day in their boots.  Family/Friends may think they know how to help the veteran but they don’t.  They want to “fix” their vet instead of embrace the new and changed person who is trying to come “home again.”
  5. In past wars, faith and family and society were tightly woven and was a safety net when a vet came home.  That isn’t the norm anymore.  Many families are now broken and dysfunctional.  The vet is now discovering he or she felt most at home with fellow vets.  He/She is understood in the military world, now called home.
  6. Most veterans have a patriotic and servant’s heart; which explains why they volunteered to serve our country in the first place.  They come home and hope to continue serving, but they struggle with finding purpose and identity in their new community.
  7. The homeless female veteran population seems to be growing, but there are fewer services to help them at this point.  Many are mothers and trying to protect their children in a safe and healthy environment.  These women struggle with the same emotions listed above, but women normally don’t seek help until it’s often too late.
  8. The profile of a women veteran is different in just a few ways.  Women know they are going to be facing the giants, both physically and emotionally, before they ever take the oath to serve our country.  They must always try harder to meet the expectations that serving in the military requires.  It is not easy being a woman in the military; but that has never stopped women from serving.  From World War I to current day, women have evolved into a combat-ready machine with physical and emotional strength and skills that far outweigh that of other women.  Hence, these female veterans are slow to ask for help — because they have always had to do it on their own.  They are looking for purpose and identity in their communities too; but they are seen by family and friends as too aggressive, too outspoken, too commanding, too decisive, too deliberate, …too everything.  Those characteristics are perfect and expected for a man, but not expected of a woman in our society and are often shunned by friends and family because of this too.  Women have changed significantly as they have fully integrated into all military occupations.  The problem is, society has not prepared itself to welcome home this changed woman; even though they created her.  So, this female veteran once again sucks it up and takes the blows of society now too.  She finds she is only comfortable with other brother and sister veterans, because nobody else “gets” her.

This is the “face” of the homeless veteran to me.  They are heroes too.  They were once strong and sure of themselves, but are now just lost and have emotionally gotten themselves into a very bad situation that is alone and away from loved ones.  They are often paranoid and unsure of themselves, but want to find purpose and identity again.  Many are too afraid to see their own face and they definitely don’t want their loved ones to see them in this way.

The VA offers great programs to help them.  But society must to do their part too.


Semper Fi,

Jamie DePaola

Women Marines Association Area 1 Director. AD1@womenmarines.org

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Lela Leibrand (1891-1977) US Marine Corps

Lela Leibrand (1891-1977) US Marine Corps

By: Tracy Crow

In 1977, the same year World War I Marine Corps veteran Lela Leibrand, perhaps better known as the mother of dancer and actress Ginger Rogers, was buried, I joined the Marines and began a career in public affairs, writing press releases for civilian media and articles for military newspapers and magazines, just as Marine Sergeant Lela Leibrand had in 1918.

Of course I didn’t know this in 1977. I wish I had.

In 1977, I was toiling away on releases and articles under the sexist, watchful direction of a top enlisted man who walked around the press pit striking the side of his leg with a yardstick like a metronome to rush his young Marine reporters toward deadlines. For me, the only enlisted woman reporter in the pit, he meted out special praise such as, “You proved you’re more than a good looking pair of legs, after all.” In 1977, I was unaware, and no doubt so was he, that I was actually standing metaphorically and historically on the shoulders of Marine Sergeant Lela Leibrand.

In fact, I wouldn’t discover any of this until nearly forty years later. For perspective it might help to remember that in 1977 women’s military contributions weren’t discussed during Parris Island boot camp classes on Marine Corps history. How to properly apply makeup, sure, but women’s contributions during two major World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam? Omitted as if women had been nothing more than a footnote to history.

So my discovery of Marine Sergeant Lela Leibrand, among the first ten women to join the Marines in 1918 (referred to then as Marinettes), and who had been assigned to the Corps’ Publicity Bureau, was nearly by accident. The discovery happened while researching for a new book, the brainchild of co-author Jerri Bell, a retired lieutenant commander. For sixteen months, we scoured through archives of diaries, oral histories, published and unpublished memoirs, depositions, and Congressional testimony for women’s true stories told in their own words of their military experiences since the Revolutionary War.

As research led us to World War I…enter Marine Sergeant Lela Leibrand.

What we discovered by Leibrand was her article, “The Girl Marines,” written in 1918 or 1919 for an unidentified publication. Her article breaks every rule of journalism, and I can only imagine the yardstick force of retribution that would have landed across my electric typewriter in 1977 had I dared to turn in such an energetic piece full of exclamation points and over-the-top personal bias. Yet with every read I fall more in love with Leibrand’s unabashed exuberance and her eerie prescience.

Here’s an excerpt from Leibrand’s article that will appear in our forthcoming book, It’s My Country Too: Women’s Military Stories from the American Revolution to Afghanistan, releasing July 1, 2017 from the University of Nebraska Press/Potomac Books:

Cherchez la femme! (Find the woman!) It is no longer a problem down at             Headquarters in Washington. Girls, girls everywhere! And the Marines might just as well             accustom themselves to us for we’ve come down among them to stay four years!

The moment your Marine Corps sent out the call for girls we flocked to the            recruiting stations in every village, hamlet and town, eager to be one of that splendid             body of men who have rendered such excellent account of themselves ‘over there.’

{…}We are Marines! That says it all! {…}A sort of forewarning…do you gather a bit of our importance among you? We are not a fad by any means…

All this is just to let you know we are here, also to warn you that, whatever you     do, remember the eagle eyes of the Marinettes are right upon you. Watch your step!”



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Marine Corps veteran Tracy Crow is the author of the award-winning, critically acclaimed military memoir, Eyes Right: Confessions from a Woman Marine; the novel, An Unlawful Order under her pen name Carver Greene; the new breakthrough text, On Point: A Guide to Writing the Military Story; and the anthology, Red, White, and True: Stories from Veterans and Families, WWII to Present. Her latest project with co-author Jerri Bell—It’s My Country Too: Women’s Military Stories from the American Revolution to Afghanistan—will be released July 1, 2017 from the University of Nebraska Press.


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WWII Bernice Trotter

Bernice Trotter


By Tim Stanley Tulsa World

bt2After four years, Bernice Trotter had long since come to terms with the fact that her brother was gone.

But as she stood there with her parents, watching his flag-draped casket being unloaded from the train, it felt almost like she was losing him all over again.

“Today the word we’d use is ‘surreal,’ ” Trotter said recently.

Describing the arrival of the remains of her brother, Franklin Pearson, back in Tulsa in 1949, she added, “Your first thought was that it just can’t be. It must be a mistake.”

Trotter, like her brother, had served in World War II. In fact, they had enlisted within a few weeks of each other — she with the Marines, he with the Army.

But unlike her brother, Trotter lived to see the war’s end.

The news that he’d been killed in action in Germany, she said, shook the family.

Even though Trotter — like most servicewomen at the time — was stationed stateside, far from combat zones, a kind of guilt would gnaw at her for a long time afterward, she said.

“I kept asking myself, ‘Why did I come home and he didn’t?’ ”

Fighting her way in

Before he wentbt4 overseas in ’44, Trotter and her brother posed for a photo together at the family home in Tulsa.

She brought it out during a recent interview with the Tulsa World.

In the picture, Franklin is dressed in his uniform, while Trotter, playfully, has donned his Army hat, which is too big and descends to conceal one of her eyes.

Arms around each other, sporting big grins, they couldn’t look happier.

“It’s the last one I have of him,” said Trotter, 92. Continue Reading »

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WMA Area 1 News


By Jamie DePaola

It has been a very busy few months in Area 1 since the 2016 Convention as we’ve been preparing for the Inaugural Connecticut Veterans Day Patriot Race in November. The WMA is co-hosting the event with the American Legion, the VFW, and the DAV.  When all is said and done, you can be sure that many will know the Women Marines have landed in Area 1.  The marketing blitz with hard copy brochures and social media, press releases and a live radio interview has promoted not just the race event, but the Women Marines Association.  Some of the other veteran organizations were not aware of our existence in this area until now.  All good news!

In September, I was invited to participate in a panel discussion at the Hartford Stage to discuss what it means to be a woman in the military.  On behalf of my sister Marines, I joined two other panelists who were from the CT Army National Guard and the U.S. Army.  This panel was hosted by the playwright of “Queens for a Year,” T. D. Mitchell (writer from the TV show “Army Wives”). The play received great reviews, and follows five generations of women Marines, so it only seemed fitting that a Marine be on this panel discussion.  It was quite the experience!

MCJROTC from Reading PA at Modern Day Marine.

MCJROTC from Reading PA at Modern Day Marine.

A few weeks later, I was asked to support the Modern Day Marine 2016 Expo in Quantico and I was fortunate to work with the impressive VA-1 Chapter team on the first of the three-day Expo.  It was an honor to work with Area 2 and witness, firsthand, their commitment to the annual MDM.  I learned that Area 3 and 10 also participate in the MDMs at Camp Lejeune and Camp Pendleton, respectively, each year.  As much as I envied them for this opportunity, I also gained tremendous respect and admiration for their commitment to work these long days each year at the MDM Expos.  (OOHRAH Ladies from Area 1!)  We met many active duty Marines, many Marine Corps League members (MCL is the host of these annual Expo’s), some MCJROTC cadets and quite a few civilians; and we communicated to all of them about the WMA and about our Centennial celebration in 2018.  Most of them were not aware of the WMA nor about the 100th anniversary in two years.  This proved to be a successful investment to promote our organization.  We especially focused on meeting the women Marines and thanking them for their service.  It was a proud day for us to be in the presence of these amazing Marines!



Another favorite Area 1 quote:  “We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided. ~ J.K. Rowling

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The Power Within

The Power Within

By Brianna Renner

“This is recruit Power.”
“Cookie? I love you!”
“ I have arrived safely at Parris Island.”
“We love you so much!”
“Please do not send any food or bulky items to me in the mail.”
“Ok. I will write to you every day!”
“I will contact you in 3 to 5 days by postcard with my new address.”
“Ok. We will look for it. We love you!”
“Thank you for your support. Good bye for now.”
“We love you and will see you…”

            Phone Home

                                     Phone Home

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