A call to war lays foundation for future female Marines
By Pfc. Ethan Hoaldridge
| | March 22, 2007
MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII, KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii --
More than 10 million American men were overseas fighting in World War II in the early 1940s, and factories were in desperate need of manpower.
On the home front, women stepped up and went to work building planes, tanks, and ships needed to fight overseas. World War II also made it necessary for women to help support the nation’s armed forces.
In 1942, Lorraine A. King, a San Francisco native, packed her bags and took a train to New York. She decided to serve by taking the military route and enlisted in Marine Corps at Hunter College where her recruit training would take place.
“When we stopped at Grand Central Station, I remember seeing about 20 other women joining up with us,” said King. “They were wearing mink coats, nice dresses and had that model stance -- debutants we called them. We didn’t know what to expect.”
While traveling with no papers or orders, the women enlisted upon arrival at Hunter College.
King, now 85 years old, was one of the first 200 women to enlist in the Marine Corps during World War II.
Between March 26 and July 10, 1943, six classes of recruits, 525 each, arrived every two weeks. Of the 3,346 women who began recruit training at Hunter, 3,280 graduated.
When they arrived at boot camp, they went through eight weeks of training in the snow with only their civilian clothes.
“I remember wearing both my suits because it was so cold when we were marching in the snow all day long,” said King. “Toward the end of training we were finally issued uniforms and had them tailored there.”
Later in 1943, female Marine officer candidates and recruits were transferred to Camp Lejeune, New River, North Carolina, where nearly 19,000 women became Marines during World War II.
After training, the women were stationed all over the U.S., and King was assigned to Headquarters Marine Corps in Washington D.C. She first served in a color guard at Henderson Hall, and then requested a transfer to the San Francisco Port of Debarkation where she served as a typist.
“I was in an office doing clerical work throughout my career, and that’s why I have so much respect for these girls today,” said King. “They run obstacle courses, fire weapons and do long road marches with heavy packs. I don’t think I would’ve made it.”
Today female Marines, who are now trained at Paris Island, S.C., follow the same recruit training schedule as the males. They are restricted from serving in combat arms occupations, but serve in nearly every other specialty in combat zones.
“It was an honor to meet Mrs. King, because she helped set the foundation for what women are to the military today,” said Lance Cpl. Jessica Williams, a MCBH military policeman. “A woman’s role in today’s war has totally changed. When necessary, women put there lives in harm’s way every day in Iraq to help out in the fight.”
Aside from the opportunity to join the infantry, women today are given equal opportunity.
According to the 2006 Marine Corps Almanac, there were 198 female Marines working in explosive ordinance disposal and ammunitions, 277 in avionics and 319 in the military police or corrections, all of which are demanding military occupational fields for both men and women.
“It was an honor for me to come speak to the Marines at Kaneohe Bay, especially the women, because they serve in so many capacities now,” said King. “They’re the best.”