At 79 years old, Arline can still remember the details of her military service quite vividly.
Arline now lives at Riverbend, a Sonida Senior Living community in Jeffersonville, Indiana and recently took the time to share her experience as a Specialist 4 in the Women’s Army Corps 60 years ago.
Enlisting as a woman in the 1960s
Arline enlisted when she was not yet 18 years old, despite objections from her mother.
“That a woman was in the Army in those days, it wasn’t normal, but I thought it was important,” Arline said. “I just wanted to do something that helped people. I wanted to serve my country, and so that was what I did.”
Arline didn’t come from a military family. In fact, her father was a Primitive Baptist pastor.
At the time Arline enlisted, her father was very ill in the hospital. With a large family, including a brother who was disabled and unable to speak, Arline had been working since the age of 11 to help provide financial support.
“Somebody needed to have a job,” Arline said. “It’s never been my belief that doing nothing is a good thing.”
Arline’s inspiration for joining the Army came from her fourth grade teacher, who was an Army veteran. Arline had always thought highly of her teacher, who helped connect her with the right person at the Army so she could enlist.
“I knew I had to do something, and I wanted to follow in the footsteps of someone I trusted,” Arline said. “It wasn’t what she said, but how she behaved. She was very kind and level-headed, and she never raised her voice – that’s what I admired.”
Serving in the Army as a woman
Arline said she was surprised at how quickly she moved up in rank after she joined the Women’s Army Corps (WAC). In fact, she was identified almost immediately to be a platoon leader for her all-woman platoon. Arline served an important role in the Women’s Army Corps, training and leading the women who served in her platoon.
“I was surprised that they chose me, but delighted,” Arline recounted.
It wasn’t until after Arline left the Army to start a family that the WAC was eliminated to help increase parity and opportunity for women in the Army.
“It changed quite a bit right after I left, I think for the better,” Arline said. “It just made a lot of sense, it had always made a lot of sense to me. Women are serving and doing the same things as men, and therefore are entitled to the same amount of money and the same everything. It eventually happened.”
Inspiring other women veterans
Even after she left the military, Arline continued to be an inspiration, never missing an opportunity to encourage other women to join the military.
“If I see a young woman who doesn’t know what she wants to do, I ask if she’s considered being in the military,” Arline said. “I don’t tell her she must, or she should, I suggest she might want to think about it.”
Arline said she knows of two women she spoke to who enlisted.
“They both joined the Army, and they’re out now,” Arline said. “It meant a lot to me to be able to suggest something for someone that they would be good at, and that would make a difference in their lives and in the country. We need more women to take care of our country.”
As soon as Arline moved to Riverbend, one of the first things she wanted the staff to do was to put up her picture on the tribute wall for veterans.
“I just wanted everyone to see a women’s picture there,” Arline said. “I think many Americans still don’t understand that there are – and have been – women in the military serving our country, and some are in for a long time.”
Continuing a life of service
After leaving the Army, Arline raised her children to value hard work and a good work ethic. Arline also continued to look for opportunities to serve others, such as by delivering meals to those in need through Meals on Wheels.
“Service is service, and I think it can be of any origin, in any way you want it to be,” Arline said. “There’s always something that needs to be done, and always someone who needs to know that they’re cared about. I figured that’s my job. It just seems to me that if you can, you must.”
Arline continues to embrace that spirit of service as a Riverbend resident. “I like to help, I like to do things,” Arline said. “My motto is, ‘Do something, just do something.’ ” That’s how Arline embraces life at Riverbend, and she encourages others to do the same.
“Do something for others,” she said. “Take care of others. See if there isn’t something that you can do.”
Voices of other Sonida veterans
Lyle Barstow, resident at The Oaks at Brownsburg
E6 in the U.S. Navy, 1959 – 1979
“It’s happened more than once where I’m out eating a meal and people come up and offer to pay for the meal. It’s a humbling experience. I was in during the Vietnam era, but didn’t go to Vietnam. When the troops came back from there, they were treated pretty badly. It’s great to see a change, see people get recognition for their service.
“I served 20 years as an aviation electrician. The highlight of my career was 18 months in Antarctica with a Navy unit out of Rhode Island. It was a real honor just to serve in the military and I’m proud to have done so.”
Robert Hewett, resident at The Oaks at Brownsburg
Airman First Class with the U.S. Air Force
“I moved into this place and the first thing out of the hat, the key to it all, was the ability for the other veterans to talk to me, and talk about what we did in the service, that worked out very nicely.
“I was in the Air Force up in Maine for two years, and then spent two years in Florida. I worked in maintenance for the missile program. My job was to repair the missile program when it launched, and get them ready to receive another missile.”
Bill King, resident at The Waterford at Levis Commons
Sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps, 1947-1954
“I was in the Korean conflict. I’m proud to be an American and fly the U.S. flag, and I’m glad that I fought for the country. I loved to be a Marine.
“When the president decided to change the flag to a 50-star flag, I knew the 16-year-old who designed the flag that we fly today. He was a good friend of ours, he was a senior in high school in Lancaster, Ohio. His name was Robert Heft.”
Rita Warren, resident at The Oaks at Brownsburg
The U.S. Army Military Police Corps, 1976-1977
“I went in right after I got out of high school because I followed my grandpa on my dad’s side, he was in the Army. There was one time we went out on patrol and I had to search every woman because I was the only woman that was in that unit.
“My parents and I always honored Veterans Day. Now, I wear my red, white and blue and we [veterans] talk to one another. We talk about the times they were in and I was in and what happened. I think it’s really great, interacting with them. Here, we have more opportunity to interact than we do anywhere else.”