Editor's note: Although many think women in the military is a new trend, the fact is an estimated 400,000 women served in the U.S. armed forces during World War II. Five of these women made the trip to Washington D.C. Thursday as part of the Upper Peninsula Honor Flight's visit. These WWII veterans shared some of their memories with Mining Journal staff writer Renee Prusi for a two-part series, Women at War. Today is part one of the series.
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Seventy years ago, Stephanie "Stevie" Luchay was a living on a farm in Menominee County's Perronville, wanting to join the United States war effort.
"I was 20," she said. "To join the Women's Air Corps you had to be 21. I found out the Marines would take me and I said 'that's for me.' I signed up in Chicago."
The five women veterans on the U.P. Honor Flight trip pose Thursday at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. Standing from left are Ann Queen, Stevie Severson, Elizabeth Carpenter and Augusta Houser. Seated is Dorothy Percifield. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)
Now Stevie Severson will turn 90 in November, but her memories of the war days are still as vivid as if they happened yesterday, something she shares in common with the other women veterans who traveled with Upper Peninsula Honor Flight to see the World War II Memorial and other landmarks in the nation's capital.
Severson was sent to a place very different from the small farming community in which she grew up.
"We were sent to the Bronx, New York, for our training camp. We trained with the WAVES (Navy). There were 65 WAVES and 25 Marines in my school."
She studied to become a radio operator and served stateside from March 1943 to October 1945.
"When I signed up, I promised my parents I wouldn't go overseas," Severson said.
It was during her service years she met her husband, Steve Severson.
"Yes, we were Stevie and Steve," she said with a laugh.
Steve was also a Marine and the couple married in May 1945.
"Everyone was wanting to get married then. The invasion of Japan was coming and everyone was thinking our troops would be dying," she said.
She had to get special permission for one aspect of the wedding.
"My mom had to get permission to get out of uniform to get her wedding dress on," her son, Rich Severson, explained.
"I really wanted to wear a wedding gown," Stevie added. "Steve and I were married and then we went home to meet each other's parents, mine in Perronville and his in Minnesota."
Her husband stayed in the service and the family moved all around. Their daughter Joan was born in Hawaii before it was a state. Rich was born in Kansas and daughter Shirley in North Carolina.
Eventually, Severson returned to her hometown and has settled there, holding her memories of her time in the military close to her heart.
"I enjoyed serving very much. I would never trade those years for anything. I still correspond with women I went to radio school with."
Dorothy Schoen Percifield was 26 years old and living in Wilson when she joined the military during World War II.
"I was in the WACs, part of the medical corps," she said. "My mom passed away before I could go to college so I joined the WACs so I could get an education."
After basic training, Percifield was assigned to a hospital in downstate Battle Creek.
"My favorite memory is taking care of my boys, which is what I called the troops who came to the hospital," Percifield said. "We cried when they left our hospital. We were glad to see them be able to go home, but they were still our babies and we missed them."
She had two brothers serving in the military at the same time as she, Percifield said.
"The Lord was watching out for us," she said. "And we all made it home safely."
Now 94, she was thrilled to be able to take part in U.P. Honor Flight.
"The World War II Memorial is wonderful," she said. "It's fabulous. It's really unbelievable what they have done with it. It's a beautiful tribute."
After living in Milwaukee and Racine, Wis., she and her husband, Lester Percifield, returned to Wilson in 1980 and made that their home. He passed away 12 years ago and while she misses him, Dorothy said, "We had a good life together."
And she will always carry fond memories of her time in the military.
"In many ways, those were the best two years of my life."
Now an Iron River resident, Augusta Valentyn Houser graduated from high school in Medford, Mass., in 1939.
"Jobs were not that easy to get then, so one day I went in and enlisted," she recalled.
At first, she joined the Massachusetts Women's Defense Corps and was trained in the aircraft warning system.
"I did that for three years, then Congress passed a bill creating the WACs. I got credit for two years and was off to basic."
Basic training was in Iowa.
"They had the men train us," she said. "At first, some of them didn't want us women. But they accepted us."
Houser was an air traffic controller.
"On the East Coast, we watched for German subs sneaking in," she said. "And then I had another job in Presque Isle, Maine, as a loadmaster, which meant I was in charge of loading and unloading passengers as the planes came in."
She served for six years in the Air Force, then went to work at the Pentagon.
"When my husband, Jim, got back from Japan after the war, we got married," she said. "He was a 30-year career man and for the next 30 years, we went everywhere."
Jim is now suffering from Alzheimer's disease, so the couple moved to the U.P. to be close to their daughter Joyce, who accompanied her mother on the Honor Flight.
The trip was a thrill for Augusta, now 91.
"It was wonderful," she said. "Everything clicked from beginning to end. Everybody on Honor Flight was beautiful. It was great to be able to talk to the other women veterans on the trip. I want to thank them all, everyone who was part of this trip.
"It is something I will never forget."
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.