Veterans Honored at Stow Breakfast… Nov. 12, 2014
By Nancy Arsenault
In recent years, the Stow Veterans Day Breakfast has become an opportunity for the greater community to hear recollections of real wartime experiences from a roster of outstanding speakers, and this year was no exception.
Sponsored by the Rotary Club of Nashoba Valley, in conjunction with the Stow Council on Aging, nearly 150 people came together in St. Isidore Parish Hall Tuesday morning to hear Guest of Honor Janice Reidy recall her World War II experiences as one of the first women to enlist in the service.
Reidy is now 103 years old and a resident of Worcester. While her military service began 72 years ago, her memory of those times in history is as vivid as if they had happened yesterday.
This spry woman, wearing red, white & blue, walked to the podium amid loud applause from the crowd. “I really didn’t do much,” she remarked. But, after being questioned by an audience member, she humbly revealed that she had risen to the rank of Commander in the Women’s Army Corp (WAC). “I never made Captain, because I got married instead,” she joked.
“After the attack on Pearl Harbor, there were requests for volunteers to aid the war effort. The call for volunteers came every day,” she said. In 1942, Congress approved the enlistment of women into the army and created the WAC, a result of an original bill introduced by a Massachusetts member of the House of Representatives. “I would have felt awful if I wasn’t doing anything,” she recalled.
Reidy was one of the first 50 women to be assigned, beginning basic training in Des Moines, Iowa. Her duties were on the domestic front, though always focused on the war taking place throughout the world. She remembered that at the time she was assigned, Hitler was invading Norway and moving through the Scandinavian countries. It was feared that he could easily have entered North America and the United States by traveling across the polar region from Scandinavia.
She and her group were assigned to the far northern border of the United States, in the upper Michigan Peninsula near Sault St. Marie. They scanned the sky for enemy planes, plotted flight sightings and patrolled the area to keep the shipping channels and locks safe for travel. She said that it was the duty of every citizen, on both sides of the border, to report any planes seen flying overhead.
She remembered an Eskimo who saw a plane, but without the technology we have today to immediately report it, he traveled by snowshoe to a distant telegraph office and reported his sighting. That report was filed a day after the plane was seen, but every citizen felt it was their duty to contribute to the war effort on the home front, said Reidy.
She later was assigned to an airbase in Tampa, Florida, home to a fleet of B-12 bombers, their physical details she could still describe today. “I learned to recognize bombers in the sky from the number of engines, their size and other markings,” she said. She concluded her service at Mitchell Air Force Base on Long Island where she went to Chemical Warfare School and became a commanding officer of 300 women. There, she and the other WACS assisted medical teams treating the incoming wounded from the Battle of the Bulge.
“I was never sorry I went in,” she said. After the war, she and her husband, an army radar man, settled in Worcester. She said most of her comrades from the war era have passed on, leaving her with just the memories of the time in history they shared.
After her talk, dozens of veterans came up to shake her hand and meet her, recounting similar tales of their times in the service. None were as old as she and all showed deference to the woman who, though she was behind the scenes, spoke their language and understood the times they had all shared.