OMAHA BEACH, France (AP) — Women didn’t get much of a mention in
Women fought, and died, too. French resistance fighter Lucie Aubrac was pregnant when she sprang her husband, Raymond, from Nazi captivity in October 1943. Across France, many schools are named after Aubrac, who died in 2007, aged 94.
Women nursed the wounded and comforted the traumatized.
“If I had to do it over … just like the boys, I’d serve again,” war nurse Leila Morrison, now 96, said as she came back this week to Normandy, where she served in the 118th Evacuation Hospital after nearly 160,000 men landed in Nazi-occupied France on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
“It changed my life completely, my outlook in every direction, and I am so thankful for it,” Morrison told The Associated Press in an interview. “I was just 22 years old, just out of school and never been through anything like this. And it was a real wakeup realization and it stayed with me ever since, every day.”
In short, women were vital cogs in the Allied and Soviet war machines that eventually overpowered those of Germany and Japan. Women were also on the front lines of horror and suffering, with countless numbers subjected to mass rapes by advancing soldiers who often carried love-letters and keep-sakes from sweethearts waiting back home, millions of whom became widows.
The success of the massive air- and seaborne D-Day invasion,
In the aftermath of the
“We must depend upon you — upon womanpower,”
Jean Harman, then 17 and already taking flying classes when Japan sprang its surprise attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet, didn’t hesitate to offer up her skills to the WASPs, the pioneering Women Airforce Service Pilots whose array of noncombat flight missions released male pilots for battle.
“World War II was a righteous war. We were scared to death that Germany was going to win, take over Europe and then come after us,” Harman, now 94, said in an AP phone interview from her home in California. “I don’t know anybody who didn’t try to do something patriotic during the war.”
The toughest aspect of being a WASP was “being accepted,” she said. “The men were not universally accepting of us flying.”
The success of D-Day and the Allied victory in the
“When we needed you, you came through,”
“We were just dumped,” Harman said. “One day we were employed, the next day we were not. We had to pay our own way to wherever we were going next. We had no severance pay. It was just, ‘That’s it girls.’”
On their first job, in October 1942, they
From there, women went on to pilot almost every type of wartime plane, including the massive B-29 Superfortress, used in August 1945 to
“We didn’t have the means to fight that war when we started. We had to scramble for everything we could to get men, ships, ammunition, etc., to the front to fight,” said Sarah Byrn Rickman, author of “The Originals,” about the women fliers. “The women stepped in and filled a gap that made this possible.”
“Without the women, could we have won the war? Probably, a whole lot longer,” she added. “But who knows? Their role was vital.”
Thirty-eight of the women were killed in wartime service. But long considered civilians, not members of the military, they weren’t entitled to the pay and benefits men got. Only in 1977, after a long fight, did they get veteran status,
Out of a job, Harman married a naval officer. He got flight training; she invested herself in rearing a family.
“We had babies for the next five years and that was it, you know, that part of my life was over,” she said. “With four kids, we didn’t have the money or that for me to do any flying later, just for fun.”