- Posted June 10, 2014 by
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Three Female WWII Veterans Recall Their Service in Honor of the 70th Anniversary of D-Day
Muriel Pieklik enlisted in the Army Air Force in 1944 and was stationed in Newark, New Jersey as a telephone operator. After high school, she started working in her hometown of Buffalo, New York for the New York Telephone Company. After two years on the job, she was encouraged to enlist and was hoping to be sent overseas. During this time, women had to have permission from their parents in order to serve in the military. Having grown up in a military family with her father serving in the Navy during World War I, he was very proud that his daughter also wanted to serve. Pieklik was one of many women who worked the telephone switchboard. She remembers D-Day because it fell on her birthday. She recalls having the day off and being at her aunt’s house. When they heard the news of the invasion, everyone was so excited they ran into the streets celebrating.
“The war really affected my family. I remember when I first heard that my twin brother had been injured,” said Pieklik. “He was in the Marines on the demolition squad in the Pacific on Eniwetok Island when his ship was blown up and he was hit on the beach. He was sent back to the states with a broken hip and many other injuries and was then sent to a special hospital in California to learn how to walk again. I was so scared for him and all of my other friends who were in the service. Being involved in the war made me feel like I was doing something to help these service men—I only wish I could have done more.”
Right after graduating from Lawrence General Hospital’s nursing school in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1944, Arleen Gerstenberger joined the Army as a nurse and was stationed in Fort Devens, Massachusetts. During the war, injured men were sent by ship to the New York harbor and were initially checked into the hospital on Staten Island. From there, depending on the severity of their injuries, the wounded soldiers were sent to the hospitals closest to their homes.
“I would have gone overseas if I was needed, but I was happy to be a fresh face for the men who were sent home because of their injuries,” said Gerstenberger. “I was an orthopedic nurse, so I dealt with soldiers who had broken limbs and shattered bones. I am grateful that I helped so many of these brave soldiers heal and that I could send them home to their families.”
Barbara Easton was an Ensign Officer in the Navy and was stationed as a code transmitter in Washington, D.C., in charge of sending and receiving codes. After graduating from Michigan University in 1943, she taught school in Lansing for one year before entering the Navy.
“At that point, everyone was pushing pretty hard for people to enlist,” said Easton. “I thought it sounded more fun than teaching and I decided to give it a try. My soon-to-be-husband was drafted into the Navy and was stationed in Washington D.C. for Naval Research. When we got married, we had to ask special permission from the Navy for me to wear a traditional wedding dress instead of my uniform!”
As a code transmitter, she was working on decoding messages and knew about the Japanese surrender before it became public, but was unable to speak of it. Easton recalls that they tried to quickly get the women out of the Navy, once the war ended.
During this time, so many men were enlisted that the U.S. started depending on women not only to take over the jobs the men had left in order to serve, but also to enlist themselves. In all, 350,000 American women served in the U.S. military during World War II, making their contributions—whether as nurses, code transmitters or telephone operators—extremely valuable to the outcome of the war.
“All of the roles the women had during this time were important,” said Nan Abbot, executive director of Wheelock Terrace Assisted Living. “Our efforts had to be coordinated, and we needed these women supporting the troops. There is no way we could have executed the D-Day invasion with the amount of ships and men involved, without the extraordinary efforts of all of these women stateside. I am so proud of these three women and am honored that I get to hear their stories first-hand about such an important time in all of our histories.”