... a patriotic tea party
November's Tea at the Milano Senior Center recognized the many contributions of our women veterans. Pictured here are a few of them who served in the military or Red Cross during or soon after WWII. Seated (left to right) are Priscilla Belcher, Ginny Wohlfarth, Marguerite Penny, and Mattie Pierce. Standing (left to right) are Vinnie Markelionis, Harriet Nemiccolo, Virginia Quinn, June Farrel, Shirley Graves, and Dorothy O'Brien.
Once a month there is a tea party held here at the Milano Senior Center so that people can stop by, have refreshments, and socialize. Sometimes this activity easily follows the holidays as they occur throughout the year. Thus, for November it seemed to be a good idea to honor our former service women and give the rest of us a chance to sing patriotic songs and dress up in red, white, and blue outfits. In the newsletter, it was suggested that any one who had a service uniform could wear it -- or, those parts that still fit.
As the guests arrived, it was obvious that these ladies were reluctant to be identified as being special because of their service time. And then the Marines arrived!! Three feisty ladies in uniform, who had maintained their contacts and friendships with "The Corps", were escorted by a Navy man who knew he was an adjutant. The ladies were on parade.
The women were asked if they would share some of their stories of their service experiences. The Waves who were present had all started out during World War II with a stint at Hunter College before going on to assignments about the country. Every ex-service woman had a brief story about "how it was then." It was easy to understand that they were indeed pioneers in an area where they were not necessarily well-received. They reflected with good humor about episodes where they needed to be rescued from their own enthusiasms. One lady remembered almost marching her platoon in to the river but was saved at the last second by a loud voiced drill sargeant.
One story told was about Ted Williams who was already famous before he became a Navy pilot. When he showed up at a particular base it was mandatory that the young service woman from the Boston area should be introduced to him. To this day, she has a wonderful story of how she at five-foot-three was escorted to the mess hall by a six-foot-three dream boat, baseball legend, fighter pilot. Thanks for the memory!
The Red Cross worker told of being assigned to the European Theater and of the conditions of field work. Then the Navy man spoke. He had met his wife while in the service but as a Lady Marine she outranked him. Every morning he makes sure that he salutes her before they start the day.
Several speakers mentioned that they had met their husbands while in the service. When the U.S.O. worker stood up to speak she told of being assigned in the Maryland/Virginia areas which had high military populations. As she pointed out into the group she said "And I met your husband ... and your husband ... and your husband ... and finally my husband."
After the sharing of stories, we had refreshments while Irene Conway played patriotic songs on the piano. Next came Anne McGillvray wearing a sequined red and white blouse and a flaglike scarf to lead us all in singing "God Bless America." When she started the music for a stirring march, the ladies stood up and demonstrated that they can still keep cadence and execute sharp left and right turns. Bless them all.
World War II was over many, many years ago and is now studied as one of many armed conflicts ... but it was a special time. These retired ladies came forward when needed. They had no clear idea of what was being asked of them.
They were not necessarily welcomed by their fellow service men. It was a tough job to become accepted and trusted but they perservered. They were able to change the mindset of society and prove the value and abilities of the female half of the national population.
When peace came, it was expected that they would go back to the role that had formerly been given then. In some cases, that was all they were allowed. Yet, they had made changes in the way women were viewed and knew they were capable of doing more. They were the true leaders, who set in motion the changes that have advanced the causes of modern day women.
They are indeed honorable women.
December 7, 2001