View Full Version : Woman warriors: Just doing their part

11-11-08, 12:59 PM
Woman warriors: Just doing their part

Monday, November 10, 2008 10:20 PM EST

Journal Register News Service

PLAINVILLE — When Japanese bombs fell on U.S. ships in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Pauline Klimek was a 21-year-old girl living in Southington, content to spend a Sunday afternoon with friends listening to “The Shadow” on her parents’ radio.

Like her friends, she was annoyed when the program was interrupted with a news flash during a pivotal moment in the drama, but it would soon be remembered as one of the most distinct moments of her life.

“I turned to look at my dad, who was sitting behind us because I didn’t know what or where Pearl Harbor was, and he had tears coming down his face,” she said. “He had been in World War 1 and knew what it meant.”

The sight of her father’s tears and the report of bombs dropping on the U.S. Naval fleet would soon change her life and the lives of everyone she knew.

A little more than a year later, the Southington girl who liked radio shows would find out about the formation of the Woman’s Army Corps, or WACs, and join the war effort.

But she wasn’t the only woman who decided to toss aside preconceptions.

By 1945, more than 2.2 million women were working in the war industries in the U.S., building ships, aircraft, vehicles and weaponry. Women also worked in factories, munitions plants and farms and also drove trucks and provided logistical support for soldiers. A select few donned uniforms and joined their fathers and brothers in the military.

For two of them, Betty Klatt and Wanda Janowski, it would mean becoming Marines.

The three women were honored Monday at the Plainville Senior Center for their patriotism when about 35 friends and family watched a film of the trio being interviewed by Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz.

While the three women admitted being apprehensive, if not terrified, at the prospect of leaving home and joining the service, they agreed that the call to serve their country was much stronger.

“My brother was a career Marine who fought at Guadalcanal,” Janowski said. “When the chance to join opened up in 1943, I knew I had to do it.”

Plainville’s Klatt also felt the pull to join and help. A 1942 graduate of Brown University in Rhode Island, Klatt finished school with degrees in English and French and few job prospects.

She finally landed a job with an insurance company, but when the Marines began allowing women to join in 1943, she enlisted. While her college studies seemed of little use in civilian life, the Marines recognized her abilities. Klatt was sent to Miami University where she was trained in cryptography.

“We were code breakers,” she said proudly. “It was very secret work, and we were under great pressure when we received something that needed to be deciphered. It didn’t help that we knew lives might depend on it.”

By most accounts, about 350,000 American women served during the war and 16 were killed in action.

While Klimek, Klatt and Janowski did not see combat, they all felt they played a large part in the winning of the war.

After her training, Klatt was stationed on the west coast in Santa Barbara, Calif., where she worked decoding messages. Klimek would be stationed at Edgewood Arsenal, a chemical-warfare facility in Maryland where she served as a driver, and Janowski was shipped to Cherrypoint, N.C., to work in the airport control tower.

“I ended up as a staff sergeant and loved it,” Janowski said.

While they enjoyed their part in the war, the three women agreed that it was not without its heartaches.

Klimek said her memories include a night when a shipload of wounded soldiers returned home by ship and she had to drive many of them to a hospital.

“Most of them were on stretchers and while my job could be hard, it was nothing to what they experienced,” she said.

For Klatt, it was the loss of friends who left for battle and never returned.

“I knew a bunch of guys who shipped out to be on an aircraft carrier,” she said. “They hadn’t been at sea for a week when a kamikaze crashed into their ship. There were few survivors. That was one of the bad times.”

As they were congratulated and thanked for their service, the three women, all in their 80s, said they wouldn’t trade their experiences because it made them more independent. Before World War II, the dominant view of a woman’s role was that of wife and mother. The need to mobilize the entire population behind the war effort was so compelling that political and social leaders agreed that both women and men would have to change their perceptions of gender roles — at least as long as there was a national emergency. Women were told they must contribute in a variety of ways, with the unspoken message being that the days of being pampered were over.

“You grew up fast,” Janowski said. “But I think we opened a lot of doors for the women and girls that came behind us.

James Craven can be reached at jcraven@newbritainherald.com or by calling (860) 225-4601, ext. 231.