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Honoring the Women That Serve In the Military
Wednesday, October 10, 2012 • Posted October 10, 2012

October 18th is the day designated to remember and honor women who haved served in the military.

Mason County has had a number of women in the service, dating back to World War I. Two were nurses in that conflict: Dora Nevelle Kothman and Lilian Wiedeman Cole.

In World War II, more women served, picking up jobs to free men for combat positions. There was the Army Nurse Corps to which Mason Country contributed: Ona Lena Brewer, Katherine Evans, Anna Lee Leifeste, Ethyl Sagebiel Willmann, Maria Kristina Schulz Spoonhour and Alma Lois Baker Sherwood.

In May 1942, the WAAC (Women's Army Auxiliary Corps) was formed. They served with the Army; but, were not members of the Army. These women were: Della Goff Ruckman, Iona Goff Gormby, Genevieve Johnson, Paul Fay McLeod Bird (she served as a codebreaker in the Philippines), Helen Leifeste Olson (she served as a mechanic because she was tiny enough to get into the nose of an airplane), Lydia A. Polk and Dorothy Wood Berry. In 1943, the WAAC merged into the WAC (Women's Army Corps). Thelma Kidd Burke represented Mason in the WAC.

In July 1942, the WAVES (Women Accepted Volunteer Emergency Service) was organized under the Navy Department. Mason's women in that branch were: Thelma Asalee Green, Irene Knopp Lancaster, Grace Carol Loeffler Brys and Alama Rachel Stevens.

In September 1942, women pilots were included. WAFS (Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Service). These women had to be between 21 and 35 years of age, have a commercial pilot's license and 500 hours of flying time. There was a rigorous physical exam. They had to complete Ground School, including navigation, meteorology, radio and Morse code, use of firearms, military courtesy, discipline and law, plus instrument training. In November 1942, the WFTD (Women's Flying Training Detachment) was formed. Their mission was what ever the Army Air Corps required - ferrying planes, testing aircraft, towing targets for anti-aircraft gunnery practice, flying search missions, and even instructing male cadets. In July of 1943, General Arnold ordered these programs combined to form the WASP (Women's Auxiliary Service Pilots). They were required to complete the same Primary, Basic and Advanced training as the Army Air Force pilots. There were over 25,000 applicants; but, only 1,900 were accepted, and 1074 earned their wings.

It was not until 1948 with the Women's Armed Services Integration Act that women gained permanent status in the Armed Services. Since World War II, we have even more women in our military services. We are very proud of all of them, then and now.

Ethyl Sagebiel Willmann is one of our women in the military.

Ethyl was born in Gillespie County in 1921. She had just graduated from nurse's training when she joined the Army Nurse Corps in 1943 at the age of 22.

She was inducted as a 2nd Lieutenant in Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. She had none of the usual basic training.

After four months with the Army, she was shipped, via the Panama Canal, to Brisbane, Australia. Then the nurses were sent on to Darwin. The Japanese had bombed Darwin, so it was a desolate place. The Army had officers, nurses and enlisted men stationed there. The nurses were billeted on a hill in tents on a concrete platform. There was a stockade around their area. They had their own latrine and one telephone. Three nurses lived in each tent.

In Ethyl's tent, there was a nurse from Massachussetts, a nurse from Mississippi, and Ethyl from Texas. The nurses were paid $190 per month; but, there was no place to spend the money. They were required to buy Savings Bonds. They ate in a mess hall divided in half for officers and nurses, and the other half for enlisted men. Most of their patients were from the Air Base twelve miles away.

Sometimes, the airmen would come over to Darwin and take the nurses to the Air Base on Sunday afternoon. There, they could buy drinks; but, could not use the Base Exchange. They could date officers, but not enlisted men. They received letters (V-Mail) from home which was censored and usually a month old.

Ethyl came back home after two years and got out of the military; but, continued her nursing career. She met and married Willie Willmann and they moved to Mason in 1949. When asked if she would join up again, she said, "No. You were just a pebble on the beach."

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