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Panel discussion highlights contributions of six women in WWII

By Jeff Strong

The American West Center held a panel discussion Thursday in the Gould Auditorium highlighting six women contributing to WWII.

“The Women of World War II” helped bring to light the many contributions women made to the war effort.

“I thought it was neat to see a different perspective. There are a lot of men veterans out there, but we don’t hear much about the women who were behind the scenes,” said U student Megan Black, whose grandmother, Bettina Black, was one of the speakers.

Of the six speakers, Ora Mae Hyatt was a nurse who was in Okinawa during one of the bloodiest battles of WWII. Margaret Pensel was a young child living in Cologne, Germany during the war. Lorraine Robinson joined the Marine Corps, and Norma Day, Ruth Messick and Bettina Black were members of WAVES-Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. WAVES was set up in 1942 to send women to work so that men holding those jobs could be activated.

The six women spoke of their many experiences during the war. Each of the enlisted women made special mention of one event in history that impacted them deeply. For all, it was the bombing of Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941.

“I remember December 7, when Pearl Harbor got bombed. I could just cry right now thinking about it. I was so upset because that was part of the United States that got bombed,” Robinson said. Soon after, she joined the Marine Corps.

“I was in the library at Ohio State. Slam bang went the door. Someone yelled, ‘Pearl Harbor has been bombed. We are at war.’ There was a long silence. Then, as if on cue, the ROTC members closed their books and walked out,” Bettina Black said.

Before Pearl Harbor, Hyatt, who wore her WWII nurse uniform to the event, dreamed of becoming a flight attendant. The tragedy had such an impact on her that she changed her life goals.

“After Pearl Harbor a great wave of patriotism swept the country and I changed my dreams,” she said.

Hyatt enlisted to become a nurse, and six months later was in overseas training. Soon after that, she arrived in Okinawa, Japan on a ship.

“We purposely arrived under the cover of darkness. As we made our way to the camp, we could hear the gunfire and see the shells explode in the air,” Hyatt said. “As we left the ship, we were advised to keep quiet, for the enemy was near.”

Pensel, a native German, gave a unique perspective on the war. She told of life as a young girl living in Germany during the war.”You didn’t talk about the war much, because you couldn’t trust your neighbor,” she said.

She recalled going to an office one morning with her mother. They entered, greeted the person behind the desk and sat down.

“After an extended period of time without being helped, someone came out and said, ‘Don’t you know how to greet someone? When you greet us properly, we will help you.'”

“We had to walk out and shut the door. I said to my mom, ‘Do you know how to greet them? Because I don’t know how to greet someone other than good morning’. ‘I know how to greet them.’ She said. We walked in and my mom said, ‘Heil Hitler,’ and they helped us right away.”

Of the enlisted women, Hyatt was the only one to serve outside of the United States as a nurse in Japan.

Some of the capacities the other women served in were communications, award making and airplane mechanics.

When their jobs were done and the war was over, the women returned home and raised families.

They all have a special place in their hearts for the role they had in WWII.

Hyatt knows she owes much of her patriotism to those years of service during the war.

“When I hear the Star Spangled Banner, or see the stars and stripes, my heart is full and I get a lump in my throat. Even after all these years.”

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