Alice Lain served in the WAVES Women’s Navy Reserves from June 1944 to March 1946. She installed radar in the torpedo bomber Avenger and the Wildcat fighter.
Central Illinois World War II Stories
When World War II broke out, Iris Nigg Lundin of Champaign left her small town in Minnesota and joined hundreds of other women in the newly formed Marine Corps women's Reserve. She became one of the first four female navigation instructors.
Producer Denise La Grassa said that in her conversations with Lundin, she was impressed by the strength of this woman who left a secure life in Minnesota to join the ranks of the Marines, the toughest of the tough. "This was the first time many of these men who were her students had encountered a female instructor and she really held her own," said La Grassa. "When I listened to her stories, I was moved by her description of how she went to bat for African-Americans on the military bases where she worked. She was brave enough to tell a higher-ranking officer that he shouldn't be treating a steward in a demeaning manner. Later in her life, equality was very important to her."
Margaret Henderson was a senior at Radcliffe when the U.S. Navy became so desperate for communications officers that it recruited several senior girls to train to become cryptologists. German U-boats were disrupting shipping to a great degree so the Navy needed help. Henderson trained for 30 days at Mt. Holyoke and then went to Washington, D.C. where she worked from 1943-45 in Naval Communications Intelligence for the European theater. In her office, Allies read communications in which German U-boat officers were wiring each other their positions, unaware that the Allies had broken their code. One of Henderson’s jobs was to keep track of the U-boats using a big map and pins.
Jill Knappenberger was one of three women serving on the front lines during the Battle of the Bulge. Working for the Red Cross operating a refitted truck dubbed a "clubmobile," she passed out donuts, coffee and cigarettes to weary soldiers. She talks to WILL-TV producer Denise La Grassa about being trapped for eight days during the Battle of the Bulge, surrounded by the enemy. Her brother, John Joseph Pitts III, an Army captain, was in the heat of battle only a few miles away. Knappenberger, shown at left with the clubmobile, said she joined the Red Cross effort because she was itching to get into the action of World War II. The soldiers taught her how to use a gun and she even got a few shots off at the Germans.