Columnist: A valentine to women who served our countryAnn Johnson was (I believed) a striking woman. Ann was tall. They use that word, “statuesque.” She was Scandinavian without challenge. Blonde hair. October sky-blue eyes. Rosy cheeks.
By: Ray Crippen, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Ann Johnson was (I believed) a striking woman. Ann was tall. They use that word, “statuesque.” She was Scandinavian without challenge. Blonde hair. October sky-blue eyes. Rosy cheeks.
Through her working years, Ann was a dental technician for Jake Casareto. She wore a starched white uniform dress.
Dr. Casareto had a dental office in the Worthington Clinic. Jake called Ann “Ah-na” because — oh, because Jake Casareto made hundreds of little jokes and because he believed Ann was an Ah-na — someone with a genuine old-country root.
Ann Johnson was the first woman war veteran I knew. She enlisted with one of the women’s service branches and served through World War II. (Maybe the WACs. I’m not sure.)
For all the fact that we reserve one day every six months for honoring veterans — Memorial Day in May, Veterans Day in November — we are coming to have so many wars and so very many veterans it is not possible to salute everyone. Worthington has five or six veterans memorials. Still, it is my impression women who served in our wars have been neglected. Valentine’s Day seems a fitting time to do honor to women veterans.
One of Worthington’s pioneers, Eloise Brant, was a war veteran. Carved into her stone at Worthington Cemetery is, “Civil War Nurse.”
Eloise rode into town horseback beside her husband George, a retired artillery man. The Brants, who came to retire, not to farm or homestead, were two of early Worthington’s most popular people.
Ida Netter, Worthington nurse, boarded a troop ship in October 1918, and sailed to serve in the field hospitals in France. Mrs. Julius Deckman followed her pastor husband into World War I service. She did community service work in Virginia and South Carolina. Annabelle Mitchell and Belle Webster left Worthington to work as stenographers at Washington, D.C. They volunteered themselves for wartime duties in an era before military auxiliaries were organized.
Ida Greig, nurse from Rushmore, christened the Liberty ship named for Nobles County at Hog Island Navy Yard, Philadelphia. Nobles County was honored for its outstanding record in selling Liberty Bonds — many of them sold to local women.
There were Worthington women in the (World War II) Army WACs, Navy WAVES, Coast Guard SPARS. Women in the WAF helped to shuttle airplanes to Labrador and Europe.
One of the most dedicated war efforts undertaken by local women was the chore assumed by a dozen-plus Red Cross Gray Ladies in World War II. These women, several of them mothers of servicemen and/or wives of World War I veterans, organized and operated a canteen inside the Worthington railroad depot for service men and women passing through on trains.
The trains arrived seven days a week, day and night. Most were regularly-scheduled but there were occasional special trains and troop trains. Dozens of trains each week. Hundreds of service personnel.
The Gray Ladies — they wore gray uniform dresses and white nurses’ caps with Red Cross emblems — the Gray Ladies drove city streets in rain storms and blizzards, sometimes leaning on ingenuity to set their record of never missing a train.
The dedicated volunteers had fresh coffee for every arrival. Sandwiches. Cake. The community joined in providing funds and food. In addition, the Gray Ladies volunteered to sew on buttons and mend tears. They took servicemen’s letters to the post office and sometimes dug postage stamps from their own purses for what were, to transient servicemen, emergencies.
There should be a bronze plaque at the depot to honor their effort.
There is no record of local women being involved in the U.S. war with Spain — except, of course, as women are ever involved with wars:
Luther Michael, 25, of Bigelow was a husky, spirited young man who volunteered for service (1898) with Nobles County’s Co. H. He departed with his company from the Worthington depot, he helped to establish the company bivouac on the Minnesota state fairgrounds. Luther (they called him Lute) was one of those brought down by the foul water. He was overtaken by typhoid fever.
His mother was notified; a telegram told her Lute was dying. She boarded the train at Bigelow on a Monday morning. She arrived at St. Paul too late. Lute was dead.
A valentine to the women all, through all the wars.
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.