Honoring the service of WWII women vets

Rita Davidson, Mary Lou Gruber and Lila Corrigan were among the 350,000 U.S. women who served in World War II.

In celebration of Veterans Day on Nov. 11, here is a profile of three local women who served during World War II. By war’s end, more than 350,000 women served in uniform.

Call to Duty

Rita Davidson, working in an office in Pittsburgh, joined the Marine Corps Women’s Reserves (MCWR) in April 1943. Her father was a former Marine. Boot camp was at the Navy’s Hunter College in the Bronx. Rita was in the last graduating class of Women Marines at Hunter College, before Camp Lejeune opened to women.

Mary Lou Gruber left her job at Ohio Bell in Cleveland in January 1944 and joined the MCWR. Her father and uncle were Marines in World War I. Boot camp was at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Asked whether she wanted to be stationed on the East or the West Coast, the Clevelander naturally answered the East Coast. She was promptly sent to San Francisco. Her first assignment was to keep in line on the troop train to the West Coast the two dozen women Marines traveling among hundreds of male service men.

Lila Corrigan left college in Illinois in 1944 and joined the WAVES – or "Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service," the women's division of the U.S. Navy – after finding the Navy recruiter the most polite among all the recruiters. Boot camp at Hunter College was followed by advanced training at Cedar Falls College in Iowa. Due to the shortage of men, the WAVES were sent out to farms to help harvest the crops. Prioritizing three options for assignments, Lila listed her first choice last after hearing you never get your first choice. But Lila received the job she listed as No. 1 (but didn’t really want) – yeoman.

Active Duty Service

Rita spent the war in payroll at the Arlington Annex in Washington, D.C.  After one year living in the barracks, she moved into an apartment with her sister. With such a high military presence in D.C., Rita said she went out dancing every night! One memorable surprise occurred when a baby was born in the barracks to an MCWR of such stocky build that no one had noticed she was pregnant. The new mother was promptly discharged.

Mary Lou served at the Depot of Supplies in San Francisco as an IBM tabulating machine operator, processing payroll for civilian workers at the Depot. She lived off-base with a roommate in private housing on Twin Peaks.

Lila was stationed at a base in San Pedro, California, with an all-male unit that handled aviation rescues off the Pacific coast. She lived with the other WAVES. While Lila spent most of her time in the office, she also took jeeps out to process sailors coming in on hospital ships and attended boat rescue training. She completed her college degree in the service.

After the War

Rita used her one-way furlough ticket on the train to travel from D.C. to San Diego to visit family and friends. She graduated from Kent State with a degree in home economics and later substitute taught and tutored in reading. She married, raised five children, and settled in Westlake in 1961. Rita and Mary Lou were both founding members of the Cleveland Chapter of the Women Marines Association in 1972. Rita still lives in Westlake.

Mary Lou returned to her job at Ohio Bell and remained in the Reserves until January 1950. She married, raised four children, and moved to Bay Village in 1956. She was active in the early days of BayCrafters and volunteered at the schools. Widowed in 1973, Mary Lou filled her time with significant volunteering at the V.A. Hospital, Marine Corps Toys for Tots Program, Marine Corps League, Women Marines Association, and The Bay Village Women’s Club. On Nov. 6, Mary Lou will be honored with induction into the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame, which recognizes post-military achievements of outstanding veterans. She still lives in her Bay Village home.

Lila took an office job in Chicago at Remington Rand. She joined the Navy Reserves, was recalled for the Korean War, and served another three years as an aide to an admiral. Lila married on the base in a military wedding, then moved to Bay Village in the early 1950s. Lila raised four children, attained her Realtor’s license, belonged to BayCrafters, and is a past president of The Bay Village Women’s Club. After six decades in Bay Village, Lila recently moved to Avon Lake.

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Volume 6, Issue 22, Posted 9:34 AM, 10.28.2014