Wednesday, July 23, 2014
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Women vets remember World War II
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Jeanne Bearmon, then Jeanne Goldoff, Captain (Photo Courtesy Jeanne Bearmon)
World War II veterans have gotten increased attention and recognition in the past few years. But often overlooked are the contributions of more than 350,000 military women who served their country at a pivotal point in world history.

St. Paul, Minn. — Jeanne Bearmon who now lives in Minneapolis, grew up in Brooklyn. At 22, while working as a stenotypist for a Wall Street firm, she and a co-worker joined the women's army corp or WAC during World War II. Bearmon says at the time, young women didn't have the kind of freedom to leave home. They generally did so only to marry. Joining the military in wartime was a socially acceptable route towards independence "I was patriotic. It was also adventure. It was an opportunity to experience people and places I would not have otherwise gotten to know," she says.

Bearmon also hoped it would be the war to end all wars and it was an opportunity to earn her college education. After basic training, she succeeded at the mentally and physically taxing, officers' candidate school. As a personnel officer in London she was promoted to captain, she kept soldiers' histories. While her work was not dangerous, living in London at the time, was. She remembers visiting friends at an apartment overlooking Hyde Park.

"We're looking out over the park and see a big light in the distance and then crossing the sky and it looked like it had the address that we were at," she says.

Bearmon and her friends fled to the ground level. The bomb exploded less than a mile away. She and her friends escaped harm. But she says the randomness of the buzz-bombs exploding frequently was so unnerving she'd tense up long after the noise would stop, a reaction that followed her years later.

"Even after I had gotten home and would be in a movie house, were perhaps there was a war movie and my body would tense up and react. It took a while before that disappeared, Bearmon says.

Bearmon says women it's taking a long time for people to give women veterans the recognition for their contributions. She believes a lack of recognition in the past stems from the prevolent view at the time that women belonged in the home and not in the army. In some cases women in service weren't always viewed fairly.

"Women in service were looked upon as tramps and sluts as prostitutes, truly. (Why?) There was such a strong feeling for a long time that women who were serving were replacing men who were then sent overseas at risk to their lives," she says.

She says at the time some people resented women for taking safe desk jobs away from men, leaving more husbands, fathers and brothers to face combat.

Another woman veteran of World War II, Florence Scholljegerdes, grew up on a Waseca farm and served as a Navy nurse during World War II .

"The war was on and I think we were all very patriotic and each one of use who joined would say, 'one more person is all it takes and we're going to win this thing,'" she says.

Scholljegerdes says the Navy sent her to Ft. Eustis, an old Army and Navy base. She says a few days later, wounded soldiers began arriving from the Pacific by the trainload.

"We would get 50 to 100 to 150 at a time. We would get them all bathed and cleaned and decide which ward they would go to. They got steak dinners, I recall, which they probably hadn't had in a year or two," Scholljegerdes says.

Scholljegerdes' patients were sailors and marines wounded near Japan or the Phillipines, with broken bones, eye injuries, head injuries, and emtional injuries. But she says surprisingly, many of the wounded had a sense of humor.

"Somehow they could make the best of it and I don't think it was a depressing kind of thing. They could be quite happy guys. And a little old TLC and good food, and play cards with your buddies and that sort of thing and it wasn't as bad as one would think it could have been," Scholljegerdes says.

She says she felt respected while on base but she was surprised to learn that she had no respect off the base, not because she was a woman, but because she was a northerner in the South. Scholljegerdes, like Jeanne Bearmon, would not trade her World War II experience for anything. Both agree that the allies could not have won the war without the contributions of women in the military.

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