On Veteran’s Day, we pause to pay tribute to the men and women who served our nation. Two of those women are World War Two Veterans from here in Chattanooga. They share their memories from more than 70 years ago.
December 7, 1941: the attack on Pearl Harbor forever changed the life of Virginia Wilhoit. Shortly after the attack, she enlisted in the United States Army. “Very rewarding, something that was necessary, someone had to take care of the sick people and the wounded people,” said Virginia Wilhoit.
For a year and a half Naples Italy was her home. She served as an army nurse, caring for servicemen wounded in battle. “People were on crutches, broken arms, and broken legs. But I never did see the worse of it.” She lived in a tent on Mussolini’s Fairgrounds. Everyday there was a new challenge. U.S. soldiers were constantly bracing for enemy attacks. “When we would hear the air raid sirens go off, we would run and get down in the tunnel.”
Eventually the allies took control of Naples, and the fairgrounds were turned into an area hospital. But the bombings never stopped. “They weren't supposed to bomb any hospitals that had the Red Cross on the top, dropped some bombs real close. I was so scared, I got under the desk.”
Back on U.S. soil, Americans were relieved to hear the war was about to end. But Jeanette Legg knew there was still work to do, and she was proud to enlist in the United States Navy. “To me I liked the sound of the Navy better, not realizing where they could have sent me,” said Jeanette Legg.
She said she was among the fortunate ones, who never saw the war torn areas. She remained on United States’ soil. “I was scared to death. Never been in the water, didn't know what a swimming pool was. I held my breath while they assigned different jobs.”
She served in Arlington Virginia, working in the Bureau of Personnel. She did office work for the Navy. A challenging job but a rewarding one. “Had to move up the ladder, learn how to use a type writer, even though I could type my name didn't mean I was a typist.”
In the 1940's the devastation from the Great Depression began to recede, but times were still hard. Jeannette was among many who left home to bring in extra income. “I couldn't find something I was satisfied with at home. My brother joined the Army and I guess with a house full of little ones, I wanted to be a grown up.”
Eventually Virginia returned home to the states, and Jeanette was discharged. They moved on with their lives and took up their next challenge; raising a family.
But now there is a new challenge; encouraging more women to serve their country. “I enjoyed every minutes of it. I hate I came out as early as I did.”
“It is a good idea to serve your country. Go on and join,” said Wilhoit.
These women are a part of Military Women Across the Nation. For information on joining Tri-State Women Veterans Unit #157, contact Ms. Parks at 326-0839 or click here to send an email.