View Full Version : High Springs woman was in first group of female Marines

08-29-06, 08:36 AM
High Springs woman was in first group of female Marines
By Rachael Anne Ryals
For The Herald

HIGH SPRINGS -- When June Daisy Whitehurst joined the Women Marine Corps, the group was so new that the uniform was a simple, dark-blue armband with white letters that read, US Marine Corps.

Now living in High Springs, June, one of the first 80 women Marines on active duty, eventually received a uniform, a designer skirt and jacket, which she wore proudly, even in the summer temperatures in Atlanta, Ga.

The year was 1943 and June and other women were slowly changing history by joining a faction of the military – a military that had previously barred women from joining.

It was shortly before her 20th birthday, the age that women were allowed to enlist in the military, when she heard the announcement on the Arthur Godfrey radio show that the Marine Corps was now enlisting women.

The slogan for the Women Marine Corps was, “Join the Women Marine Corps and free a man to fight.”

World War II, a war that took the service of most of the young men in America, needed the inclusion of women in the Marines so that men could go into active combat.

June, already working in Washington D.C. as a civil service “government girl,” knew she wanted to join the Women Marine Corps the moment she heard the news on the radio.

June said she has always been independent and adventurous, and the decision to join the Marines was a reflection of that.

“It was patriotic, yes,” she said. “But is was more of just another exciting thing to do.”

On her 20th birthday, sitting with five Marines at the Stage-Door Canteen, an entertainment and music hall for the military, she told a friend she was going to enlist in the Marines.

One of the soldiers gave her a tip on how to get on active duty right away. He told her to go down to the recruitment office wearing exactly what she was wearing, a black fitted dress with a flared skirt and a pink flower in her hair and tell the officer she was a friend of his.

She did and was enlisted and started within one week.

The First Women Marines

June was assigned to work in the office of the director of the Women’s Marines. She said that was an exciting place to be assigned because that is where all the early decisions about the new organization were occurring.

June was there when the name for the new organization was being discussed. All of the other women organizations at that time had initials, such as the WACS (Women Army Corps), but the women Marines wanted to be different.

“We said, no, we did not want any initials, we wanted to be known as the Women Marines, and so we were,” she said.

The leaders taught the girls that they were different, special and better, and to be proud of that.

In boot camp, the women were taught the history and traditions of the Marine Corps.

“We learned that we are absolutely the very best,” June said. “Which we still think we are.”

Boot camp for June was nothing like the boot camp women have to go though today, which is almost identical to the boot camp men go through, June said.

While she had to learn the marches and how to take apart a rifle and put it back together again, she said it was nothing like today.

“It’s a whole new ballpark today,” she said. “I have the utmost respect for the women who can do it now.”

June said she is thrilled that women today have come so far in the military and are able to do everything but fight in active ground combat. In her day, the furthest women could go overseas was Hawaii.

In 2004, June attended the Women Marine Association conference, a place for Marines from the past and present to meet. She is also attending this year’s conference in Louisville, KY. She said she was so excited to meet women who were actively fighting in the war.

“I got so proud,” she said. “I met three women, officers, who had flown in Iraq -- actually flown their own plane.”

Flight Simulation

In 1943, women were not allowed to fly planes, although June trained many men how to navigate the sky.

June had scored high enough on the entrance test that she was told she could choose any job she wanted, excluding air traffic control because she had bad depth perception.

June, always one for adventure, chose the job that she heard everyone wanted: training pilots and their gunners in a flight simulation machine.

The simulation machine was called a Link simulator, named after Edward Link, the inventor of the machine. June learned how to use the machine after eight weeks of training.

The machine was two small piper cub planes, with half the original wingspan, that sat on a vacuum box and could be controlled by the pilots training inside. The planes did not take off and land; rather, they just moved side to side and tilted to simulate flight. June can not recall if an electrical chord was used or not, but she said they may have used one.

June’s job was to use an instrument panel to track the men’s simulated flight. The panel showed a plane and a horizon line that June used to guide the pilots. She also used a microphone to talk to the pilots inside the simulator.

She directed them on how to use radio signals called AN signals to keep from crashing into the ocean and how to stay on course or get back on course if they got lost.

“If Jack Kennedy, Jr. had had instrument flight training, he probably would not have flown into the ocean,” she said.

Many pilots would come to June and tell her how sometimes when flying for real, they would get lost and the training she gave them allowed them to get back on course.

“The pilots made me feel like I was actually contributing to the war effort,” she said.

June said she never felt restricted by the fact that she was training others to fly, but she was not allowed to fly herself.

One time, however, when hitching a ride home with a pilot, she did get to fly a real plane. The pilot let her fly, but not land, after he found out she taught flight simulation.

“I knew how to get there simply because of the simulation instruments,” she said.

The Changing Face of War

June has seen the different ways that Americans deal with war.

She comes from a military family. After nearly getting his arm shot off, her wounded father met her mother in a military hospital where she was an Army nurse in WWII.

June met her husband, an aerial gunner and dive bomber, while in the military. Out of the four children they had together, two of them became Marines who would serve in the Vietnam War.

And one of her boys was a protestor during the Vietnam War. June said there were no protestors before the Vietnam War.

She thinks this has to do with the fact that the news did not tell gruesome details of the war like it does today.

“We were not told 500 men died that day in a battle,” she said. “We were spared the horrors of war.”

At the same time, the rationing of food, gasoline, shoes and most everything made the country a lot more aware of the war then, June said. Everything was sacrificed for the war effort.

“We knew a war was going on in those days,” she said. “Which is one of my biggest criticisms about now -- you may not even realize a war is going on now except what you hear on the TV. But we knew.”

Once a Marine, Always a Marine

June was a Marine for two years, from 1943 to 1945. She left the Marines when she got married and then got pregnant.

She said she did not miss the Marines that much because she was busy being pregnant and starting a new life.

“I am an extremely adaptable person,” she said. “I can go from one type of life to another.

She said she has often debated what the Marines taught her and what she already knew.

“Does a person who joins the Marines, do they join because they already had the qualities that were needed to become a good Marine, or did the Marines make them into this type of person?” she said.

June said she was already an independent, fearless and confident person before the Marines and that she thinks the Marines may have simply accentuated those traits.

June said her time in the Marine Corps helped her to never be afraid.

“I have always been able to look someone in the eye and stand my ground,” she said. “It makes me so I do not live fear of things.”