Hidden Heroes of WWII: an honor roll for DeKalb County women (Part I)

“Women who stepped up were measured as citizens of the nation, not as women… This was a people’s war and everyone was in it.” – Oveta Culp Hobby (as quoted on the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C.)

 

For_your_countrys_sake_today__for_your_own_sake_tomorrow_1944
Women played an essential part of the war effort, both in the military and on the home front. This recruiting poster encouraged women to join the military for their own sake, and for their country’s sake. (Image source: UNC Greensboro Women Veterans Project)

World War II was the first time in American history that women were allowed to enlist in the military. Even today, these groundbreaking women remain on the sidelines of WWII history and many of their stories have been forgotten. Few of these women faced enemy fire or had the opportunity to serve overseas, but they were heroic nevertheless. When it was not expected of them, they left their homes and their families to serve their country. They served as essential behind-the-scenes members of the military, serving as officers, recruiters, clerks, storekeepers, control tower operators, nurses, pharmacists, and more. Women could enlist in special reserve units of the military starting in 1942, including the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC, dropping the “Auxiliary” in 1943 to become WAC), United States Naval Reserve WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, Coast Guard SPARS, and Air Force WASPS (Women Airforce Service Pilots). The Army Nurse Corps (ANC) was established in 1901 and the Navy Nurse Corps in 1908, but these women were not considered part of the Army or Navy until later, when they were given retroactive veteran status. The approximately 350,000 women nationwide who enlisted in these reserves “released a man to fight” overseas. Whether they enlisted out of patriotic duty, sense of adventure, or another reason, they became an essential part of the military.

Newspaper clipping from the Daily Chronicle
Clipping from the Daily Chronicle on 12 Feb 1943, encouraging DeKalb County women to “take up the call to arms” and serve “for Uncle Sam.”

The women of DeKalb County, Illinois did not neglect their duty to their country. Many of them worked outside of the home for the first time in jobs that supported the war effort, such as building top-secret planes at Wurlitzer in DeKalb or working on local farms. Others became nurses or organized fundraisers and blood drives for the American Red Cross. At least 135 women from DeKalb County were not content with supporting the war from home, and they enlisted in the military. The majority of these women joined the Navy WAVES, and women in the WAC were a close second. About 30 women from DeKalb County joined the ANC, four women enlisted in the Marines, and one known DeKalb County woman joined the SPARS. Many of them had brothers or husbands fighting overseas, or met their husbands while serving. Several women followed their sisters, cousins, and even daughters into the military, including the three Villegas sisters of Sycamore, and the mother-daughter pair, Mary C. Burkart and Mary L. Burkart, who joined the WACs together in 1944.

Many of these women had never been away from home before, but saw many parts of the country while enlisted. Women from DeKalb County served on military bases throughout the United States, including Hawaii. While the WAVES and SPARS were primarily stationed stateside, many of the women enlisted in the ANC and WAC were stationed abroad in Indonesia, France, Japan, Germany, and beyond. Although these women could not fight in combat, they were no strangers to dangerous and sensitive situations. ANC Jean MacQueen of Kirkland earned the Air Medal for courageous service and aerial fighting in 1945. WAC Marguerite Carnal operated a radio broadcasting studio in Algiers and taught French to her colleagues while stationed in Italy. Esther Mae Nesbitt is perhaps the most well-known woman WWII veteran of DeKalb County. She was the first DeKalb County woman to enlist in the WAC, was one of the first WACs to land on Normandy Beach in France in 1944, and earned the French Croix de Guerre medal for her service as a map custodian in the European War Room. She was among several DeKalb County women who continued to serve in the military after the war, taking up their positions again during the Korean War and beyond. Some women, like Edith Spohn and Margaret Weydert of the Army Nurse Corps, and Dorothy Bartlett of the WAC stayed in the military for their entire careers and earned the titles of Major, Colonel, and Lieutenant respectively.

Groundbreaking women from DeKalb County were among those to accomplish some “firsts” of the war. In October 1942, Marion Cook Holmes was the first woman to enlist in the WAC from DeKalb (enlisting just two days after Esther Nesbitt), and as a recruiter, she encouraged many other local girls to join her ranks. Mattie Jackson was the first African-American woman from DeKalb County to enlist in the WAC, and she earned the rank of Tech. Sergeant. Lynn Chilton of Maple Park was in the first group of women Marines to report for overseas duty, and Corporal Evelyn Anderson was part of the first WAC company to be sent into the Pacific theater. First Lieutenant Vera Floit was one of the first ten women to arrive in Saipan in the Mariana Islands. My grandmother, Mildred Kaiser, was among the first group of women to integrate Saufley Field in Pensacola, FL.

The assignments that were given to these local women reflected the huge variety of positions that women held while enlisted. Ruth Babcock, Florence Billings, Beverly Vose, and Marjorie Swanson were instructors in the WAVES. Some women, including Constance Chenette and Dana Gibbons, were stationed in Washington, D. C. in the Navy department. Some specialists include: Margaret Frederick and Doris Weir, who were weather observers; Evelyn Anderson and Barbara White, who were stenographers; Norma Byers and Evelyn Johnson, who specialized in surgical nursing; and Martha McMenamin, who worked with aerial photography.

After the war was over, most of these quiet heroes returned home to DeKalb County and resumed their lives. They married, returned to their jobs, and raised children and grandchildren. Many of them were proud of their service, but felt that their sacrifice was small compared to the many men that sacrificed it all for their country. As my grandmother said once, it was “just a small thing to do for your country.” This Veteran’s Day, it’s time that these women get the credit and honor that they deserve for their service. Their efforts changed the US military and society forever. Remember their names, and learn their stories. We honor all of them, and to all who have served, for their service for this country.


The DeKalb County Women’s WWII Honor Roll includes:

Name Branch Hometown Dates of Service
Ethel Muriel Anderson WAVES Kirkland 1944-1945
Evelyn Mae Anderson WAC DeKalb 1943-?
Ruth Ann Ashelford ANC Clare 1944-1964
Norma Evelyn Aurbeck WAC Leland 1944-?
Erdine Ruth Babcock WAVES Waterman 1943-1945
Elizabeth Ann Baird WAVES DeKalb 1943-1946
Betty Jane Baker WAVES DeKalb 1944-1945
Marion H. Banks WAVES Kirkland 1943-1945
Ella Naomi Barnes WAVES Sycamore 1942-1947
Dorothy E. Bartlett WAC Malta 1942-1946
Hazel M. Bemis WAC DeKalb 1944-?
Evelyn Jean Bennett WAC Genoa 1944-1953
Thelma M. Bennett Marines DeKalb / Waverly, OH 1944-?
Florence Janet Billings WAVES Sycamore 1944-1945
Betty Ruth Binkley WAVES Sycamore 1943-1946?
Irene Agnes Bleifuss ANC Sycamore 1943-1945
Marjorie May “Judy” Blomberg WAC Esmond 1944-?
Barbara June Burchard WAVES DeKalb 1945-1946
Mary Catherine Burkart WAC Sycamore 1944-1946
Mary Louise Burkart WAC Sycamore 1944-1945
Cecile Butts WAC Sycamore 1944-?
Mary Butz WAVES Genoa ?
Mildred Byers WAVES Kirkland 1944-1946
Norma M. Byers ANC Kirkland 1942-1942
Phyllis Mae Carlson ANC DeKalb 1945-?
Marguerite Carnal WAC DeKalb 1943-1946?
Shirley June Carpenter WAVES Sycamore 1943-1946
Erma L. Carrison WAVES DeKalb 1944-1945
Marlyn Jean Carroll WAC Genoa 1944-1945
Mary A. Cerveny WAC ? 1943-?
Constance Chenette WAVES DeKalb 1943-1946
Lynn Milrie Chilton Marines Maple Park 1943-?
Grace Coffey WAVES Sycamore 1944-1946
Rebecca “Becky” Mae Colby WAVES Shabbona 1943-1946
Gladys Marie Cornell WAVES Genoa 1943-1944
Mary Elizabeth “Betty” Craig WAVES Shabbona 1945-1946
Edith Ray Crook WAVES DeKalb 1943-1945
Ruth C. Divok WAC ? 1943-?
Helen Rhoda Drake ANC Clare 1945-1947
Loyce Birdella Dryden WAC Sycamore 1944-1945
Margaret Genevieve Duffy WAC Shabbona 1943-1963
Daisy Eastwood WAVES DeKalb 1944-1946
Violet Audrey Eastwood WAVES DeKalb 1942-1944
Marie Isabel Elvert ANC Sycamore 1945-?
Vera Elanora Floit ANC Sycamore 1942-1946
Alma Linda Fraile WAC Sycamore 1944-?
Margaret Jean Frederick WAVES Sycamore 1944-1946
Mildred Elizabeth Freeney WAC Chicago / DeKalb Co. 1942-?
Erma M. Frigo WAC Chicago / DeKalb Co. 1943-?
Vona Virginia Fulsome Marines DeKalb/ Taylorville 1943-1944
Dana Jane Gibbons WAVES Sycamore 1942-1945
Dorothy A. Giles ANC DeKalb 1942-1945
Jeanette Goble WAVES DeKalb 1944-1946
Elizabeth Luella “Betty Lou” Gormley WAVES Genoa 1945-1946
Pauline Hackman ANC Genoa 1943-?
Doris Elizabeth Hagman ANC DeKalb 1945-
Ruth Irene Hall ANC Genoa 1942-1946
Donna Jean Harris WAC DeKalb 1943-1946
Agnes Louise C. Henderson WAC Sycamore 1943-1943
Helen R. Herrmann ANC Shabbona/ Steward 1943-1945?
Helen Margaret Hickey ANC Shabbona / DeKalb 1943?-1945
Eva S. Hilde WAC ? 1943-1948
Marion Louise Cook Holmes WAC DeKalb 1942-?
Marian Elizabeth Hooker ANC Sycamore 1944-1946
Agnes Elizabeth Hunter WAC DeKalb 1943-1944?
Barbara Louise Ireland WAVES DeKalb 1944-1945
Mattie L. Jackson WAC Sycamore 1943-1946
Dorothy Boxley Jenkins WAC Shabbona 1944-1946
Barbara June Johnson SPARS Lee 1944-1945
Evelyn Marie Johnson ANC Clare 1942-1943
Verna Alvina Johnson Marines Maple Park/ Sycamore 1943-1945
Hazel Jones ANC Sycamore/ Kirkland 1942-1945
Mildred Agnes Kaiser WAVES DeKalb 1944-1946
Vergene Helen Kirby WAVES Rockford/ DeKalb 1944-1946
Irene Lalley WAVES Clare/ Sycamore 1943-1945
Edith B. Larsen WAVES DeKalb 1943-1944
Jeanette Lillian Lindelof ANC Sycamore 1943-?
Jean Isabell MacQueen ANC Kirkland 1943-1945
Madalene Jean Maertz WAVES Sycamore 1944-1945
Viola Margaret Magnuson ANC Sycamore/ Clare 1943-1946?
Margaret Betty Malsich WAC Sycamore 1944-1946
Marie Mary Mangeris ANC DeKalb/ Creston 1942-1946
Mary Catherine “Katy” McCabe WAVES Maple Park 1944-1946
Muriel Marie McClenahan ANC DeKalb / Sycamore 1941-?
Roberta McCormick WAVES DeKalb 1944-1946
Martha Claire McMenamin WAC DeKalb 1944-1946
Mary Margaret Meacham WAC Oak Park / DeKalb Co. 1942-?
Doris Mary Meier WAVES Sycamore 1944-1946
Betty Jean Miller WAC Hinckley 1943-?
J. Loreena Moudy WAVES DeKalb/ Urbana 1942-1944
Esther Mae Nesbitt WAC Sycamore 1942-1945
Ione Genevieve Norwick WAC ? 1942-1945
Madolyn F. O’Donnell WAVES DeKalb/ Steward 1943-1945
Carol K. O’Kane WAVES Shabbona 1944-1946
Mary D. O’Kerns WAC DeKalb Co./ Chicago 1942-1943
Doris Elizabeth Osborne WAC DeKalb Co./ Chicago 1942-?
Dorothy Ann Papke WAC DeKalb Co./ Chicago 1942-1945
Ruth Virginia Paulson ANC DeKalb 1945-1946
Helen Elizabeth Peters WAC Chicago / Sister Lakes, MI / DeKalb Co. 1943-1945
Lucille L. Plamback WAC DeKalb Co./ Chicago 1942-1945
Mercedes I. Rankin WAVES Kingston 1944-1945
Marjorie Ann Risley WAVES DeKalb 1944-1946
Naomi Ruth Roulette WAVES DeKalb/ Kirkland 1944-1946
Carol Jean Sears WAVES Sycamore 1944-1946
Donna Jean Shellaberger WAC DeKalb 1943-1946
Belle Shuchter WAC DeKalb Co./ Chicago 1942-?
Harriet Shepard Simms WAVES DeKalb 1944-1949
Marjorie K. Smith ANC Sycamore 1942-1945
Edith Eloise Spohn ANC Shabbona 1943-1963
Ruth Sophia Stenmark WAC DeKalb Co./ Chicago 1943-?
Marjorie M. Storm ANC Genoa 1945-1946
Marjorie Carolyn Swanson WAVES DeKalb 1943-?
Wilma Marie Swanson WAVES Sycamore 1943-1946
Doris Virginia Swedberg WAVES Mayfield 1944-?
Mary Gene Underwood WAVES Sycamore 1944-1946?
Ruth Carol Upton ANC Mayfield 1945-1946
Edith Eleanor Urish WAVES Paw Paw/ DeKalb 1943-1945?
Mary Agnes Utter WAVES Sycamore 1944-1946
Felicitas Villegas WAC Sycamore 1944-?
Theophila Villegas WAC Sycamore 1944-1945
Beverly L. Vose WAVES DeKalb/ Joliet 1944-?
Lillian Waters WAC DeKalb/ Downers Grove 1943-?
Doris Evelyn Weir WAVES DeKalb 1944-?
Ruth Lamontera Welander WAVES Sycamore 1943-1946
Jeanette Marie Wennlund WAVES DeKalb 1944-1946
Mary Elizabeth Wetzel WAVES Sycamore 1944-1946
Margaret Emily Weydert ANC DeKalb/ Maple Park 1945-1947
Barbara Irene White WAC Genoa 1944-?
Alta Louese Wiley ANC Sycamore 1942-1944
Eudora Adele Williams WAVES Genoa 1944-1945
Dorothy M. Willrett WAC Malta 1944-1946?
Barbara Luciene Wilson ANC Sycamore 1945-1946
Marjorie Alice Wonser WAVES Sycamore/ Cortland 1944-?

 

Women WWII veterans who lived in DeKalb County at other points in their lives include:

Name Branch Hometown Dates of Service
Cora Esther Blatcher WAC Winnebago Co. / DeKalb Co. 1943-
Patricia Jane Brown WAVES Urbana / Waterman ? (2.5 years)
Mary Fox WAC Ohio 1942-1945
Frances M. Garland WAC Woodstock / DeKalb 1942-?
Fay Ann Horton Air Force (Civil Air Patrol) Los Angeles, CA ?-?
Dorothy L. Lindeen ANC Milwaukee / Sycamore ?
Elaine Martin WAVES Milwaukee / Sycamore ?
Cecelia Dawson Paul Marines Ft. Lauderdale, FL 1944-1945
Lola Genevieve Range ANC Fairbury / Sandwich 1943-1946
Jeannie Margaret Scott Marines Racine, WI ?

More information about these women’s service can be found at the Joiner History Room in Sycamore, IL, or by contacting me directly. This honor roll was compiled from local newspaper articles, Army military records, census records, obituaries, and other records found on Ancestry.com. The women’s names and hometowns reflect their names and permanent residences at the time of enlistment during WWII. Dates of service included are known enlistment and discharge dates during WWII; later service dates may not be listed. While I have striven for accuracy, I apologize for any mistakes. Please contact me with any corrections or additions to this honor roll. Part II, which will honor the Homefront Women Heroes, will be published soon. 

11 thoughts on “Hidden Heroes of WWII: an honor roll for DeKalb County women (Part I)

    1. There were many women who stepped up and were home front heroes! I respect your grandmother, too. They filled many jobs that were previously not open to women and did an excellent job! Prior to enlisting my grandma also worked in a factory. That factory in particular used to make pianos, but during the war they manufactured top-secret drones. Enlisting in the military wasn’t the only way that women could serve their country!

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you! Before starting this project, I didn’t know any other women from my local area, besides my grandma, who had served in WWII. I knew they were out there, and I knew they needed to be recognized.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. That’s quite a list! How did you find these ladies and their service records? My mother was a WAC, she was a secretary. Not glamorous, but she did her bit. My father served on bombers, so we mostly talked about his service. This gives me a prod to ask her more about her experience before she is gone.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I primarily looked through old local newspapers to gather most of the names and other interesting details, and then followed up with research on Ancestry, Army enlistment records, veterans BIRLS files, local cemetery books for veterans burials, and recent obituaries. I also asked local Facebook groups for women that I may have missed. It was hard to track down some of their stories, but it was worth it! Like your mom and my grandma, many of their jobs weren’t glamorous or earned them headlines, but their stories are still important! Please ask your mom about her service, too! Thanks to both of your parents for their service!

      Like

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