The year was 1943. There was a war on.
"I just wanted to go in and help," recalls Zilla Layton. So she joined the Marines. Layton chose that particular branch of the service, she says, because Marines "were just tops.""I joined the WAVES simply because I really was patriotic," says Ruth Tuttle. "I needed to feel like I was doing something." The Navy looked so fascinating in books and films, she says. Her duties in naval intelligence turned out to be as exciting as she'd hoped.
Alberta Hunt Nicholson and Charlotte Mitchell Carl just wanted to fly. That's why they joined the WASPs. In those days the Army Air Corps didn't allow females to be pilots. WASPs were classified as civil servants, not officially part of the military. However, Nicholson and Carl did many of the same things male military pilots did.
It wasn't until 1979 that Congress gave the 900 surviving World War II WASPs official status as veterans.
All too often our society ignores its veterans, and women veterans are even more likely to be overlooked than their male counterparts, says Veda Jones. Jones helped form the Utah chapter of National Women Veterans United Inc. She also works for Job Service. Jones says, "One of the things I run into is when women come in to seek unemployment benefits, they are rarely asked if they ever served in the military. Men are always asked."
Women might not mention their military service when they are applying for a job or asking for unemployment benefits, Jones says. They might not ask for veterans' benefits for college or health care, either.
"Women don't always think of themselves as veterans," she says.
Women vets now have organizations in every state, Jones says. "Our main goal is to improve services to women veterans and women who are still in the Armed Forces. We figure about 10 percent of women who served even think about taking advantage of their benefits.
"We have 5,900 women in Utah who are veterans. This is the group we are trying to reach out to now, to build a registry for advocacy and networking."
Many women who served in together have kept in touch, through formal organizations or just as friends. They are aware, especially those who served in World War II, that they broke new ground together. They haven't forgotten the comradeship they shared.
As a Marine staff sergeant stationed in El Toro, Calif., Layton drove huge transport trucks. She was 35 years old when she enlisted, "too old," she says modestly. Still, her contribution was significant. Her platoon of 14 women freed up 32 men for overseas combat, she says.
After the war, Layton says, it never occurred to her to go to college on the G.I. bill. She joined the police force in Salt Lake City.
All the women who became WASPs had a pilot's license before the war started, explains Nicholson. They were given the same training that the male Army Air Corps pilots got.
After training, Nicholson went to Williams Air Force base in Arizona as an engineering test pilot. "We actually got uniforms," she says. "Every day I would go to the flight line and there would be a list of airplanes. Something mechanical had been done to them, and they had to be tested before the cadets could fly them.
"It was great to be able to do all that flying and get paid for it." Eventually Nicholson and some other female pilots got a transfer to Luke Air Force Base, also in Arizona. The commander was not at the field when we they got there. When he got home and found women pilots working for him, Nicholson says, he had them all transferred back to Williams.
Joining the WASPs started Nicholson on a lifetime of aviation. WASPs got commercial pilots' licenses along with their discharge papers, she explains. She went on to be an instructor and flew in cross-country and transcontinental air races.
As a WASP, Carl was one of the first pilots to fly a B-17, "those huge airplanes, like `The Memphis Belle.' " She took gunner trainees up on practice missions.
"I was admitted to the WASPs when I was 22 years old," she recalls. "It was hard work. I was always scared to death that I'd wash out along the way. They did wash people out of flight training."
"Now that I'm so old, I think, `My gosh, did I really do some of those things?' "
"It was a glamorous time," says Ruth Tuttle. "I felt like I was doing something important in the Navy - not just working in the kitchen or something."
One of her most vivid memories was of the day the war ended. She says, "It was unbelievable. To see all the people on the streets, hugging, sailors were kissing the girls, I lost my hat. It was so exciting.
"You don't forget a thing like that. I can still picture it."