As told to Mary Louis
I was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in October 1921. My parents were Raymond Howard Corwin and Dora Moses Corwin. My father was an electrical engineer and because he worked for various power companies, we moved around quite a bit while I was growing up.
As the Great Depression was looming, we had to go where Dad could find work. From Ann Arbor we moved to New York City, where he worked for the power company. Then we crossed the country to Oakland, California, and, in 1930, ended up in Santa Cruz. Dad worked for Coast Counties and, when the company changed ownership, for PG&E. My sisters, Ruth and Ann, were born here in California in 1926 and 1928.
I grew up in Santa Cruz, graduating from both elementary and high school there. I then attended San Jose State College, because it had a civilian pilot training program. I had always wanted to fly planes because I thought it would be exciting. When the United States entered into World War II, various state expenditures were cut, including the flying program at the college. So I changed my major to business administration and graduated in June 1943.
I had a college roommate, Dorothy Stewart, who was going to enlist in the Marines, so I decided to join her. I still hoped to fly. We enlisted on June 26, right after graduation, and were inducted in San Francisco less than a month later. My parents were happy that I was in the service. They knew I would not see combat as a female, so they were not worried. I entered the Marines in the same year the Corps added female reserves. Women were being recruited for clerical positions, to free up the able-bodied men who had been doing those tasks.
Less adventurous than I, my sisters did not enlist in the military. After high school they married and raised children.
I was in the first group of women sent to New River, in North Carolina, for boot camp. We were taught to march and got many lectures on Marine protocol. From New River I was sent briefly to Cherry Point, N.C., for assignment. I chose to serve in the aviation corps because I really wanted to fly. But instead I was assigned to control tower duties. I was shuffled off to a Navy tower school in Atlanta, and studied control tower operation for three months. We experienced an ice storm while I was there, which was good training for helping pilots navigate during inclement weather.
Early in 1944, I was assigned Parris Island, South Carolina, where I stayed until my discharge in August 1945. We were the first women to arrive at Parris, which was a Marine boot camp for men. Before we women arrived, the men had been schooled for three months on how to treat female Marines – and they treated us well. There wasn’t even any teasing. I think the slogan “Once a Marine always a Marine” helped the guys see us as fellow members of the Corps. When any of us Marines received commands, we obeyed, both male and female.
When I arrived at Parris Island, there was only one barracks for women, but by the time I left, there were four female barracks, in a separate area from the men. At first, we ate at the Chief’s Club but eventually, we had our own mess hall. The men liked to be invited to eat with us, because our mess officer had been a restaurant owner prior to her enlistment, so our food was really good.
While on Parris, I met Donald Leroy Clouse. He worked there at the Navy dental dispensary (the largest in the country) until he was transferred to Charleston, South Carolina. By the time he did, our courtship was in full swing. We became engaged and continued our relationship by letters.
When asked about a memorable experience during my service years, I remembered going on furlough for what was supposed to be two weeks. I went with a girlfriend, Bert Wade, who also worked in the control tower on Parris Island.
We hitchhiked by plane across the country. First, we made our way down to Savannah, Ga., and flew military stand-by to Montgomery, Ala. At the time, Montgomery was home to B-24s and, in early 1945, the new B-29 Superfortresses were moved there. While in Montgomery we ate at the military mess where there were German prisoner-of-war cooks. From Alabama we flew stand-by to Kansas City.
By the time we reached K.C., the war in Europe was over and the B-24s were retired. This meant Bert and I could not hop another military flight for the next leg of our journey. Still, we could not surrender our parachutes, which we were required to carry on all military aircraft. We began hitchhiking from Kansas City, by the side of the road with a suitcase in one hand and a parachute pack in the other.
Someone picked us up and took us to the next airport (I can’t remember which), and we flew to Salt Lake City. That airport was memorable because a lady had lost her diamond ring in the restroom and a search was on. We were in line for our flight when security stopped the boarding to inspect everyone’s suitcases and women’s purses. My engagement ring from Don was in my purse, but I was able to convince security that it was not the one they were searching for.
Finally we boarded the plane and flew to a base in southern Nevada, but we did not have security clearance to disembark. It turned out that the base was where jet bombers that would eventually carry A-bombs were being developed and tested. So we flew back to Salt Lake. There we hopped a flight to San Francisco, where we were finally allowed to surrender our parachutes before flying on to Salinas. We then hitchhiked to Santa Cruz, where my folks lived. My parents took us to Yosemite, because Bert had never been there. While we in the park, my sister called our hotel to say that a Marine telegram extending our furlough beyond two weeks had arrived at our home.
To return to Parris Island, we hitchhiked by road to Sacramento, then flew to Texas on a VIP plane with an Argentine diplomat. From Texas we hopped a plane to North Carolina. Looking out the window, I could tell that the pilot was circling the wrong airfield but we finally landed in Charleston. Then Bert and I hitched a ride to Parris. We worked just one shift, then got a 72-hour pass to get us back into our usual work rotation. We went to New York for the long weekend.
At Parris, we worked on a rotating basis and had 72 hours off at the end of each rotation. We frequently went to New York or Miami for our leaves. On single days off, we would often take picnic baskets from our mess hall and hike around the nearby countryside. We also had fun going to the movies and swimming in the pool at the rifle range.
Love and marriage
Don and I courted long-distance for a while until our wedding, in March 1945. After we were married, I spent some of my leaves visiting him in Charleston, where I moved after my discharge. There, we began our life together.
Little did I realize that my marriage would be characterized by the saying, “A rolling stone gathers no moss.” My husband was always restless, wanting higher-paying jobs, better homes, and new cars. He admired the genteel upbringing he could tell that I had. My vocabulary and manners revealed my education and the kind of family life that he wanted. Don was raised in the wide-open spaces of Wyoming, where the western lifestyle was more rough-and-tumble.
After Don was discharged, we moved to Ypsilanti, Mich., so he could attend college. He knew he needed more education to achieve his goals. I attended University of Michigan, where I received a master’s degree in education. I ruled out becoming a civilian air traffic controller because I had my first child, Donna Lee on Dec. 16, 1946, 10 months after our marriage. Working as a controller would not have allowed me to take care of her as easily. I think teaching school was probably less stressful.
Later we moved to San Jose, where Don worked on his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education at San Jose State, and I taught at local schools. Our second child, Kenneth, was born on Nov. 13, 1947. I had a difficult pregnancy with our third child, so I moved in with my parents in Santa Cruz. Our son Raymond was born on April 13, 1948.
Don and I taught school in Santa Clara Valley for nine years, moved around for a few more years as Don climbed the school administration ladder, then taught for a decade in Fresno.
Finally, a pilot
While we were in Fresno I learned to fly a small plane. I had always wanted to be a pilot, and, since I did not learn in the Marines, I decided to do so in civilian life. That came in handy because of my next teaching position. While Don was a school superintendent in Buttonwillow, Kern County, I taught in the oilfields near Taft. To get to work, I flew planes I owned (first a Cessna 72, then a faster Mooney) over the hill from Buttonwillow to Taft. Another teacher would pick me up at the airport and drove to the school out in the oil fields. I taught there for two years.
We next lived in Salinas for two years. Then Don decided he wanted to pursue a Ph.D., so he went to University of the Pacific in Stockton. His doctorate work was interrupted by a job interview in Tehran, Iran.
Don returned home after his trip to Iran, but the call of the wild had reached his ears and, of course, I went along for the ride. We flew to Don’s new assignment in Liberia, West Africa. We were employed on a two-year contract at the American School in Monrovia. He was the superintendent and I was a teacher.
We returned from Africa to retire in San Jose, where we managed a mobile home park for two years. When Don became ill, we moved back to Kern County. I managed an apartment house that we lived in and was a teacher’s assistant in Bakersfield. Don passed away in January 1991, just a month after our son Raymond died from a serious infection.
Our daughter, Donna Lee, went on to become a teacher in Anchorage, Alaska. Kenneth was a career Marine and is now retired.
I moved to Sonora after Don’s passing, and I have continued traveling during my retirement. Just to stimulate my brain at the age of 70, I took an ROP cosmetology class at Sonora High School, but I never worked as a beautician. Twelve years ago I joined the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Under its auspices I have gone on several mission trips to South America, India, the Philippines (where I even preached), Indonesia, and Mongolia. I also traveled to China on a Tuolumne County Chamber of Commerce-sponsored trip.
I haven’t traveled for a couple of years, since I’ve had some health difficulties. But I intend to get well enough to hit the road again. I can still take myself to church and someone helps me with shopping. Besides traveling, I have volunteered at Sonora Regional Medical Center and the library. I have also been active in my church.
Reflections on military service
I was so busy with college and having my first child in Michigan that I only kept in touch with Bert briefly after my discharge from the Marines. I have not attended any reunions, because my life was so busy with children, teaching, and moving.
Both Don and I utilized our GI benefits for schooling. I have also used military medical benefits at VA hospitals and clinics. There are so many specialists to help veterans there. VA hospitals also welcome all veterans and provide them with medical expertise. These benefits really made our lives better, and we were always glad to have them.
I have always been a hard worker and grew up in a well-disciplined family. So it was fairly easy for me to adjust to military life. The endurance I learned in the Marines helped me survive all the moves Don and I made. I think my lifelong faith has also helped me grow and become the person I am.