By Chris Hendrickson, Monitor
Several local veterans will be honored at Sultan’s Veterans’ Day ceremony, including longtime Sultan resident Mary Ann Sadowsky, who is a World War II Veteran. Sedowsky moved to Sultan in 1986.
Originally from Kentucky, Sadowsky moved to St. Louis, Missouri in 1937 when she was 15 years old. She enlisted in the military six years later at the very onset of women being permitted to serve in the Marine Corps.
Shaking Sadowsky’s hand, one can easily sense a quiet, steely reserve. At 92, her gaze is unexpectedly sharp as she recalls different aspects of her military service. Sadowsky signed up for the Marine Corps practically on a whim, having gone to the enlisting office intending to sign up for the Navy. Once there, 21-year-old Sadowsky noticed the brand new Marine recruiting area and quickly changed her mind.
“I’m scared to death of water,” said Sadowsky. “So I just walked over to that desk and signed up for the Marine Corps.”
The Marines were the last branch of the U.S. Military to accept women recruits. The Navy, the Coast Guard and the Army all preceded the Marines in establishing a women’s reserve.
This was largely due to the fact that the Commandant of the United States Marine Corps at that time, Lt. General Thomas Holcomb, was not in favor of enlisting women and he made his beliefs well known. But by the fall of 1942, after losses were suffered in a significant offensive military campaign against Japan, the Lt. General was forced to concede his original opinions in order to meet the high demand for additional Marine Corps personnel.
In February 1943, Lt. General Holcomb announced that women were eligible to become Marines.
It was actually not the first time there were women enlisted in the Marine Corps; in World War I the military enlisted 300 “Marinettes” to free males from desk jobs. It was, however, the first time that the enlisted women were truly considered Marines, a concept which was further enforced by Lt. General Holcomb who declined to adopt any sort of nickname for the new female troops.
The Navy had WAVES, the Coast Guard had SPARS and the Army had WACS; all acronyms associated with the women’s troops.
“They are Marines. They don’t have a nickname and they don’t need one. They get their basic training in a Marine atmosphere at a Marine post. They inherit the traditions of Marines. They are Marines,” said Lt. General Holcomb in a 1944 interview with Life magazine.
Sadowskyenlisted in March of 1943, and within a week, she found herself traveling to the Bronx area of New York City for boot camp. She arrived at boot camp on March 23, 1943.
“It wasn’t a walk in the park,” said Sadowsky. “I had no idea what I was getting into when I joined the Marine Corps.”
Sadowskyspent six weeks at Hunter College in New York learning military basics. She recalls performing drills on the streets of New York as her drill instructor, a male, did his best to mold the women into disciplined Marines. Sadowsky was able to adapt to the challenging and demanding regimen, and was successful in drilling.
Not all members of her platoon fared as well. Some of the girls, Sadowsky explained, just couldn’t do it. One woman in particular was simply unable to learn how to march and keep in step during the drills. The drill instructor tried repositioning her in the front of the platoon, the middle, and finally the back, but to no avail.
“No matter where she was, she just couldn’t do it,” said Sadowsky. “I’m sure that man must have had ulcers.”
Sadowsky clearly remembers that the D.I. would turn away from the platoon in frustration, let loose with a bit of colorful language, and would then turn back to the platoon once he’d regained his composure.
“He’d come back and say, ‘Let’s try it again,’” said Sadowsky.
She acknowledged that boot camp was at times pretty tough, but feels that she is better off for having had the experience.
“It didn’t hurt me a bit,” said Sadowsky.
Sadowsky graduated from boot camp, officially becoming a Marine on April 29, 1943. She was then sent to Indiana University for specialty training where she attended Aviation Storekeeper School, learning clerical and administrative skills. After completing her specialty training, Sadowsky was stationed on the base in Cherry Point, N. Carolina, where she worked first in the aviation tower and then in the supply department.
Sadowsky’s military career took her from Cherry Point to Edenton N. Carolina, where she continued to perform clerical work in the supply department. In 1945 she was temporarily stationed at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia, after which she returned to Cherry Point to finish out her service.
The Marine Corps had adopted the slogan “Free a Marine to Fight” in an effort to entice more women to enlist. This was what they told Sadowsky when she joined, and it was an idea that she was not always comfortable with.
“You’d think about that,” said Sadowsky. “What’s happened to the man I’m replacing? Did my being here cause someone maybe to lose their life?”
Sadowsky kept her nose down while in the Marines, working hard enough to achieve the rank of Sergeant before her service ended in 1945. She was part of an exclusive group of women who saw the opportunity to serve their country and willingly signed up to do so. At the end of the war, Marine Corps enlistment had leveled off at just over 485,000 Marines, out of which only around 21,000 were women.
“I’m very thankful that I had that experience in my life. If I had it to do over again, I’d do it again,” said Sadowsky.
Sadowsky didn’t end up leaving the military altogether. After her service came to an end she briefly returned to St. Louis, but soon married a Marine and moved back to Cherry Point to be with her husband.
“I married a Marine and was in for 20 more years,” said Sadowsky. “Because when you’re married to one, you’re there. You live their life.”
Sadowsky and her husband raised two children.
Sadowsky still has her Marine-issued service album from boot camp that contains photographs and other memorabilia, including her Sergeant stripes. There are handwritten messages penned inside from the women with whom she became a Marine. In the front of the album, Sadowsky carefully recorded the dates of her service, including all the different places she was stationed throughout her career in the Marine Corps.
At the end of her service documentation is the following note:
“The end of a very happy and memorable time. Although there were rough spots the friends I made and the wonderful times I had could last me a lifetime,” wrote Sadowsky.
Sadowsky is proud to be a veteran and proud to have served in the Marine Corps. She feels that being in the service helped her to gain independence and to develop problem solving skills, leaving her better equipped to deal with life’s challenges.
“It was a good life,” said Sadowsky. “Something that a little old gal growing up in Kentucky never thought she’d do.”
The city of Sultan and the Volunteers of America want to welcome all to attend the second annual Veteran’s Day Ceremony.
The ceremony will take place on Monday, Nov. 11 starting at 1 p.m. at the All Veterans Military Wall located at 1st and Main Street in Sultan.
This year’s event will feature Congresswoman Suzan DelBene, who will present the city of Sultan with a flag that has flown over the nation’s capitol, and retired U.S. Army Brigadier General and Volunteers of America Regional Vice President Robert Reese, who will be the principal speaker.
Sergeant First Class Dave Sivewright, who many Sky Valley residents know as the “Highway 2 Freedom Runner,” is participating in the ceremony and will be recognizing local veterans. Sivewright will provide biographical info on a select few veterans who are being honored at this year’s celebration of service.
The event will also include Sgt. Brian Johnston of the Monroe Police Department performing on the bagpipes, and Sultan resident Paula Thomas singing the National Anthem. The Sultan Boy Scouts Troup 52 will also be participating in the ceremony.
A reception will be held at city hall following the ceremony, and will include refreshments and a display of military memorabilia.
For more information on the Veteran’s Day Ceremony or to nominate a Sky Valley veteran for recognition at the event, please contact Sultan City Hall at (360) 793-2231.
In addition to Sultan, Congresswoman DelBene is also presenting American flags to the city of Gold Bar and the town of Index. All three flags have been in service in Washington, D.C.