21Country: The plucky women of World War II
Bluffton author’s new book details stories of female pioneers ‘Born to be Soldiers’
DECATUR, Ind. (WPTA21) - Interviewing over 260 veterans, Bluffton author Kayleen Reusser continues to share stories of those who fought to protect their country. But in her 10th book, women are the heroes she hopes to honor. Reusser sat down with ABC21 to talk about Born to be Soldiers: Those Plucky Women of World War II.
“We’ve never had an American draft for women,” Reusser explained. “So any woman, of any era, has volunteered to do so — I think that’s outstanding!” Born to be Soldiers features thirteen stories of women who served in: WASP (Women Air Force Service Pilots), WAC (Women in the U.S. Army), the Army Nurse Corps, WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), and SPARS (United States Coast Guard Women’s Reserve).
“This is a title that came about from a statement that’s actually in the book, from Ruth Licking,” Reusser told us. “She said that she thought that God had made her to be a soldier!”
“All these women were so dedicated and so proud to serve. All these branches were created, except for the Army Nurse Corps,” she explained, “because the nation was so desperate for help.”
“By the end of the war, 350,000 women had volunteered,” she added. “I feel like they were such pioneers. I’ve never been able to do anything that brave, and I just feel like they are just plucky for serving their country in such a great way.”
Eileen Zeissig’s photo is on the book’s front cover. She still has her dog tags from decades ago, which display her first and maiden names ‘Doris Stuckey’. At 100-years-old, she can remember her service vividly, despite not talking about it openly for years. She shared with us to pivotal moments that shaped her life.
“Our senior class took a trip to Riley Hospital in Indianapolis, and we went to the children’s ward and I said, ‘That’s It!’” she said. “I know what I had to do. I wanted to be a nurse.” She saved up money, working for a $1/hr, to pay for her nursing education through Lutheran Hospital. But once again her life was changed forever, as shocking news broke over the radio on December 7, 1941.
“Where’s Pearl Harbor? Nobody knew where Pearl Harbor was!” Eileen explained, referencing the attack on America that led to the nation’s involvement in World War II. “We listened to that — we were spellbound. That triggered me. I thought, I want to help the war effort.”
After finishing her education, she enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps. Her military dress uniforms look as crisp and pristine today, as they did when she bought them in 1944. She served stints in hospitals stateside in Indianapolis and West Virginia. “I had a ward of paraplegic patients who were paralyzed from the waste down,” Eileen described. “At that time, we didn’t have the technique or knowledge to treat them.”
Her kindness with those she helped, got her in trouble, and ended up being a catalyst for her to leave the country. “I wasn’t very G.I,” she admitted. “I was a nurse… I was compassionate!When you’re dealing with what you’re dealing with — fellow soldiers, young men with injuries? You’re a nurse first, and an officer second.” After Germany’s surrender in 1945, thousands of casualties overseas required urgent care.
Eileen would assist in England, France, and Germany, until being discharged in 1946. One of her last assignments was to care for the babies of French women, who married U.S. soldiers, and were headed to America. She decided she was done with nursing, and headed back to Indiana.
“From a very restricted life style to go home… it was hard to adapt. My brother, who owned the palmer house in Berne, asked me to come work for him,” she told us, and started to laugh. “I lasted two weeks, and decided nursing was pretty good!” And just like that, she returned to the profession, and Lutheran Hospital. A year later, she married her husband Master Sergeant Werner Zeissig.
Though Eileen is flattered Reusser featured her story in Born to be Soldiers, she’s still hesitant to talk about her war experiences. “I’m thinking of the G.I.s that were killed. Just like D’Day… I can remember so vividly, and all I did was help take care of them,” she told us. “I wasn’t in a battle. I just didn’t feel like I was worthy of all the attention.”
“Eileen might think she was just a nurse, but when I was interviewing the men, they really respected the nurses,” Reusser said. “They knew they couldn’t get well without them. She wasn’t just a nurse. She was a hero.”
“My children said they found out more after I’d been interviewed, but my husband and I never talked about it,” Eileen shared. “We went ahead and got on with our lives. That’s why they call it the greatest generation — and I agree with that, wholeheartedly.”
You can find Kayleen Reusser’s book here. It also features the stories of Elizabeth White Dybbro (WASP), Margaret Ray Ringenberg (WASP), Mary Anna Martin Wyall (WASP), Frances Kraner Beeler (WAC), Charlotte Koch Eisenhart (WAC), Ruth Cooper Licking (WAC), Bonnie Calhoun Neuenschwander Habegger (Army Nurse Corps), Mary Woodhull Lipscomb (Army Nurse Corps), Rose Mary Anderson Flener (WAVES), Rosemary Russell Schmidt (WAVES), Evelyn Ruth Beckman Brown (SPARS), and Lorraine Hook Davis (SPARS). Each woman is from Northeast Indiana.
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