Second World War: Lady Marine at Camp Lejeune Became First Sergeant

How a lady marine serving in Camp Lejeune during the second World War became first sergeant of her company, and other stories.

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I was in the Marine Corps, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, from August 1943 to November 1945. My parents had also said goodbye to my brother in June. He served during World War II in the Army under Patton. 

One of my reasons for leaving, in addition to patriotism, was to get away from a problem boyfriend. After serving two years in North Carolina, and being around so many Marines, he looked pretty good to me. I came home and married him, and we had 34 years together before his death in 1980.

Here are some highlights of being a lady Marine:

With 6,000 men on base and only 2,000 women, we did not lack for dates, but many of the men thought we were there for their pleasure, so on each date that battle had to be fought. In each case, I was given the respect that I asked for, but it was quite an education in life.

Living in a barracks with 60 other women was also an education. I learned about different races, religions and lifestyles. My job was in the same building where I lived, so I only had to go down the hall to my typing job in the Women Marines Company Office. I worked my way through clerk typist, muster roll clerk, payroll clerk and finally into acting first sergeant, with my own company of 100 women. It was very good for my self esteem to learn that I could do things that I never believed I could.

Holidays on the base were especially deadly, but we were all in the same boat, so we planned things to do. When I would go home, I was astonished at the lovely colors in my home after being used to olive drab. I declared I'd never wear a hat again, because dress code required we wear one everywhere.

It was a huge base with six movie theaters - all free, so we saw lots of good movies. I met some skaters, who taught me a lot about skating, which I loved. That also was free on the base.

On weekends off the base or on a three-day pass, a group of us would visit the various towns around Camp Lejeune. I would try to learn all I could about each town and the various churches and denominations there.

We could go to the mess hall and request a picnic lunch in our off-duty hours, so often we would get bikes (also free) and ride to the beach or woods for a picnic. Swimming in the ocean was quite an interesting thing for this country gal, who knew nothing about salt water, beaches or sun bathing.

Sometimes the Coast Guard would arrange a party with food for us, and take us deep-sea fishing. Farther inland was an island where we could go canoeing. On the base were recreation halls for ping pong, card playing and various games to pass the time.

We could also meet in the laundry room, where each girl was required to wash, dry and iron her own summer uniform. Winter drab or olive-green uniforms went to the cleaners free. Cuban-heel shoes were regular wear, until later, when we were issued medium-heel pumps. The shoe cobbler on base took care of those repairs, but we learned to spit and polish them along with the best Marines.

We each had our regular cleaning duty the night before inspection, as well as on a daily basis. Demerits were issued if anyone did not meet the strict standards.

We each signed up for the duration and up to six additional months. We received our honorable discharge according to a point system that considered rank, length of duty and such. We were allowed to sign up for duty in Hawaii, the only overseas duty open to us during World War II. I thought life was hard enough here and had no desire to go anywhere else. We were issued mustering-out pay and a ruptured duck; a dove symbol to wear, telling the world we were discharged. I was one happy person going home, but it was a very interesting and educational 27 months.

Joan Baker Falke
Des Moines, Iowa

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.