Polly Woodhull Lipscomb– Army nurse who served in England during WWII
As a tribute to Women’s History Month, I’m devoting this column to two special women I’ve had the privilege to interview/ write their stories.
It’s always a thrill to interview a WWII vet, but I especially enjoy talking to the women who served. Every woman who served in the military at that time was a volunteer. They were not drafted. Their number was much smaller than the number of men who served.
That’s one reason I’ve only been able to find and interview two dozen females. Keep in mind the culture at the time was not conducive to supporting women in their decisions to serve in the military.
‘Plucky’ is the best word I can think of to describe their courage to enter that man’s world. Often they were criticized for wearing uniforms and especially pants! One woman’s mother told her it was not proper to be in the military. The daughter who later flew airplanes with the WASP (Women’s Air Service Pilots) told her to get used to it because she was going to do it anyway!
Many women served in the military as nurses. That profession looks lots of guts. As nurses were desperately needed overseas during World War II, Polly Lipscomb volunteered to go. She was assigned to a hospital along England’s southern coast. She had worked for several years as a nurse for a doctor in private practice in Fort Wayne, Indiana. When he closed his practice to volunteer for the war, she decided to do so as well.
Polly Lipscomb’s wedding photo
Polly was an officer and secretly dated an enlisted Army soldier (fraternizing /dating between officers and enlisted was forbidden). They married in England and returned to Fort Wayne after the war where they raised their family. Polly was 100 years old when we conducted her interview. I was impressed when she got out of her chair like she was much younger!
Women served in other ways as well during WWII.
Lorraine Davis had graduated as a teacher from Muskingum College in Ohio when she enlisted in the Coast Guard. Note: Finding a female Coast Guard officer in the Midwest was a major coup for me! Few people who served in the Coast Guard live in the Midwest; few women attended college and even fewer graduated, an achievement which automatically made Lorraine an officer.
Davis was placed in the cryptography unit along the East Coast. As a college graduate, she was an officer and soon was supervising her unit of code-makers. This was top-secret work and she could not tell anyone, including her family, what she was involved with. She later married and returned to Fort Wayne where she taught school for many years. Here is a clip from our interview.
Female Coast Guard members were called SPARs, an acronym for ‘Semper Paratus’ (Always Ready)
These two special gals are featured in my book, They Did It for Honor: Stories of American WWII Veterans. It contains 34 stories of men/women from every branch who served.
Sadly, both of these women are deceased (Polly, 2015 and Davis, 2018). I miss them, but their stories still inspire me to try to achieve great things while helping people and my country.
Have you met a military veteran – male or female — and thanked them for their service? They often wear caps that tell their branch of service, when/where they served, sometimes which ship they sailed on. Tell them thanks and I guarantee, they’ll be amazed.
If you are a veteran reading this, please know my family appreciates your service.