“It’s Hard To Salute Standing In A Wall Locker”
If you have a few minutes and really are interested in hearing how I got these WWII stories from 16 ladies, in all four branches of the military, in eleven states from NJ to Fl to CA, all within six weeks from contact to publication, then come with me as I tour the United States by telephone. Remember, this is 2005, before ‘instant’ anything in the communication world.
My phone interview about Never Salute With A Broken Garter (my own WWII bio) on KBUL, Billings, MT brought a phone call from local Kay Sewell who said she was in the Cadet Nurse Corps during WWII. She shared some interesting nurse training stories. Something clicked in my head…I asked if she knew of any other lady who had served — and away it went! She gave me the phone number of Army nurse Rukavina, MN, who led me to Army nurse Bach, OR, who sent me to Olterzewski, NJ, who gave me Singer in FL, who named the three Weatherman Sisters in NC and GA. After those, I hit a wall. Then my memory kicked in.
I contacted our snowbird friends in TN for the name of her sister Edna Scott in OH, who not only offered her reality check as an Army recruit, but also suggested the title, It’s Hard To Salute Standing In A Wall Locker. Then I hit the wall again till a lead from a lady American Legion member pointed me to the first female bugler in the US Army, ‘never retired’ Donna-Mae Smith.
I was back on a roll: talked to our gas station lady in Prineville, OR who connected me with her mother-in-law, Wachsnicht, OR, a Marine who told me about a friend, SPAR Feyling, in CA. Vera Hampton, OR, was the easiest as she and I attended a Navy Women veterans’ group together. Interestingly, there were others including a few not qualified (not WWII) who so much wanted their stories told, too. Can’t remember how I found the last three. Without a doubt, telephone networking was at its finest in 2005.
By this time in August, three weeks had gone by. I was sensing that 16 was a good number because staying in touch with all, seeking their stories and securing their wartime portrait, plus needing all this to be in my hands within the next two weeks was pushing me. Betty Stringer of Palmetto, Florida, took a lot of chasing because she got halted in the middle of her writing by Hurricane Charley, and had to run to her life to Orlando from where she sent me her finished story. Then she dropped out of sight and I’ve never been able to find her since.
Within six weeks, it all came together, my head whirling in disbelief at what I had just done. But now, what to do for a cover? After brainstorming with the printer, I was connected with a multi-medium artist whose studio is out in a field at the end of a dirt road, halfway between Prineville and Redmond. He was a fantastic find, and laughed over his assignment as he was sketching. We got the book from the printer by the first of October. Edna Scott (Title and first story) who was quite ill, maintained she was going to stay alive until she had seen her story in print. I sent her the first copy. She died in December. Since the November 11th Veterans Day celebrations immediately followed the book coming out, I suggested to all writers that they go to their local newspaper with their stories and the book in hand. Six of them got front page color coverage (including Edna Scott) complete with their pictures and the rare stories of their lives as pioneers in the military! Those six sent me their tear pages; others sent their clippings. All were so excited, amazed to be honored after the many years in between. As of 2017, all sixteen ladies have now passed, or are no longer in contact. I never met a single one of them face to face, but we had wonderful phone conversations that created a lasting bond, secured by their precious memories that I was honored to publish.