Women who gave to their country

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 12, 2007

Three veterans tell their stories of service to country.

By Coy O’Neal

The Selma Times-Journal

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Three women and three very different stories about service in the military in three different branches of the service.

We begin with Rosa Miller Hobbs Joyce, who describes her time spent in the Navy as &8220;good times.&8221;

Joyce said living in the nation’s capital during a time of war was a unique experience. After graduating from Randolph-Macon College, Joyce got a job working for the War Production Board and lived near her family in Washington, D.C. After working for the board for a little more than six months, Joyce decided to join the U.S. Navy.

Joyce’s two brothers and an uncle all have Navy ties. When Joyce joined the Navy, one of her brothers was in the Navy and the other, still in college, was looking to join. Joyce also had an uncle living in Washington, D.C. who was a retired admiral.

Joyce completed her training as part of the first Officer Training Class at Smith College.

Joyce also traveled around Maryland and the Washington, D.C. &045; area recruiting. &8220;You had to get the men on your side, before they would let their women go,&8221; Joyce said. &8220;You had to reassure them they [the women] would be safe in a uniform, as a Naval officer.&8221;

Joyce said most places welcomed her when she came. &8220;We had a lot of success with recruiting,&8221; she said.

When Joyce went out to recruit, her room and board would already be set up at each location before she arrived, and she had a car and driver to escort her to assignments. &8220;It was really the first time women were encouraged to join the service,&8221; Joyce said.

Speaking to the public came easily to the young woman, since she came from a family of public speakers, including her father. Joyce’s father, Sam Hobbs, was a U.S. congressman for 18 years.

What made an otherwise fun assignment difficult was the time Joyce spent away from her husband, John Joyce, a Navy pilot she had married shortly after joining the Navy. They corresponded frequently by letter, and would visit as often as possible. Joyce would go to visit him in New Orleans, where he was stationed, and he would fly to see her whenever possible. Still, Joyce said, things were difficult.

Joyce retired as a lieutenant, junior grade, after a year and a half of service. She and her husband enjoyed 61 years of marriage before his passing away three years ago. They had five children, who now live across the United States.

Frances Lanier, Marines

Frances Lanier, 91, served as an officer in the Marines during World War II. As a woman, she knocked down barriers by simply fulfilling her military obligations.

Lanier grew up in Talledega. Her grandparents lived in Lincoln. She remembers a time before Interstate 20, and when the Talledega Superspeedway and Logan Martin Lake did not exist.

All of those things came after the war, Lanier said.

She enlisted in Officer Candidate Training School in 1943. After completing her training, she was sent to California as a Second Lieutenant. During her service, she was promoted to First Lieutenant and then to Captain. She was commander of a company of women who worked in the postage chain system. She started at Camp Elliott near San Diego and was later sent to Camp Pendleton, halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego.

WAVES stood for the Women’s Navy Auxiliary and WACS, the Women’s Army Corps.

During her three years in the service, Lanier said she made many close friendships that have lasted &8220;until right now.&8221;

Lanier describes the bases on which she served as being like &8220;small cities.&8221;

“They had everything a small town would have,&8221; she said.

This included a movie theatre, beauty parlor, and a recreation department. Servicewomen also enjoyed a basketball court, swimming pool, and tennis courts.

Lanier said there were many military bases nearby, and women serving on her base were often invited to mixers and dances. Many romances blossomed during those times, Lanier said.

Lanier said many of the &8220;old-school&8221; Marines had a hard time accepting women in the service. But then, Lanier said, &8220;a lot of them realized we did a very good job…I think we advanced the cause for women.&8221;

Lanier said she is proud of women who currently serve in the armed forces, with special respect for those who are participating in active combat. &8220;No one even thought of&8221; women participating in combat then, Lanier said. &8220;It was considered radical to be in the service.&8221;

After receiving her discharge, Lanier stayed in California and worked as a commercial artist until retiring and moving to Selma in 1981. &8220;I’ve had a long life since the Marine Corps, but it’s always been a source of pride for me,&8221; Lanier said.

Nettie Eskridge, Army

This Veterans Day, former Veteran of the Month Nettie Eskridge will be remembering the past and reflecting on the needs of a current generation.

I’m no hero,&8221; she says often. &8220;I was just doing my job.&8221;

Eskridge said her parents were patriotic, until it came to their own children. &8220;who wants to send their children off to fight?&8221; Eskridge said. &8220;But I was always strong-willed, willing to take chances. I did think about it for a while, but I always did what I wanted to do, not what someone else wanted me to do.&8221;

This aspect of Eskridge’s personality became apparent when Eskridge, despite her parents’ disapproval, joined the Army Nurse Corps at the age of 18.

Eskridge served for two years, including time spent overseas. She wanted to be a flight nurse initially, but was too tall to stand completely in the C-47 transport planes that carried the wounded back to the States.

She was a little over 5-foot, 6 inches, but the requirements for the nurses was to be 5-foot , 4 inches or less.

Eskridge entered as a 2ndLieutenant, and received a promotion to 1st Lieutenant while in the field in Europe at the beginning of her second year. Back then, there was no separation between the Army and what is now known as the Air Force, then called the Army Air Corps.

Being under one command, persons could transfer within the units. Eskridge said they were called the &8220;Brown Shoes&8221; for the brown shoes corps members wore with their brown uniforms.

Eskridge was part of the 127th Evacuation Hospital, composed of 40 doctors and nurses each, and numerous medical personnel. She spent nine weeks in Dachau, one of the most notorious concentration camps in Nazi Germany.

Eskridge said her real dream was to attend college. Despite being offered a promotion to captain due to her strong performance while in the service, Eskridge left the Army Nurse Corps and enrolled at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

By this point, the war was already over, Eskridge said. It was there she met and later married Paul Eskridge.

They adopted a son, George. Son George has now adopted a little one, Evan, aged 4, who loves M&Ms and Goldfish and already knows how to read.