The entire nation of these United States mobilized to defeat tyranny in WWII. Of course, the war effort redirected the paths of the young men who served in the military. However, without active support from nearly every other part of American society, the outcome could have been very different. Arlene (Fortney) Gearhart is one example of those who worked tirelessly on the home front.
Although she and her sister were under the age of 21 and thus needed their parents to sign as well, the girls joined the Women’s Army Corps (WACs). Leaving their rural Ithaca home, the girls traveled by train to Fort Oglethorpe in Georgia where they trained to nurse wounded soldiers coming home for recovery. Below is a bit of a description of their experience in the spring of 1945:
“When I first arrived here I could have turned around and gone home had they given me the choice, which they didn’t do. I was tired, cold, and hungry. Everything changed and strange looking. The girls in charge weren’t friendly and seemed to forget we were new and green. I begin to think I should have had my head examined.
“Had a couple dresses thrown at me, which turned out too big, and a hard bed . . . We had nothing but rain and cold weather. Just sat around for days waiting for them to make up their mind what to do with us. . . .
“A new day arrived and things look brighter. I believe the clouds have a silver lining after all. After getting a little rest and some of the dirt off, I really like it. I wouldn’t change this for anything now. It’s the kind of thing every girl should have.
“ . . . School is done and we are now in our hospital. It’s wonderful and really easy after those lectures. To me, this is the best part . . . I’m to be on ward 20. It’s an amputation ward, and it is grand. The work is hard, but fun when you stop to think how much good you are doing for the fellows. . .”
The two sisters kept journals, which document their training. They note daily experiences and include photos and good wishes of friends as postings led them from Georgia to Michigan to New York. Particularly touching are reminders of the reason for their service: pictures of patients in the wards where the girls worked.
The public is invited to carefully page through these journals, study photographs and mementos, and see Arlene’s WAC uniform on display at Gratiot County Museum’s WWII exhibit this summer.