Skip to main content

Women-at-arms

February 2024
1min read

2000_2_136

After seeing last April’s “Readers’ Album,” with its photograph of five brothers who enlisted in the Army, Navy, and Marines during World War II, Hazel Taylor thought her own story might interest us.

“In 1943, without telling my mother, Vesta Parker, I went to visit the Navy recruiter and signed up for officers training school,” she writes. “My parents had been divorced for twenty years, and my mother and I were living together in Dallas while she worked as a switchboard operator for a small business. I signed up, then went home and surprised Mom with the news. She didn’t say much, but the next day she did the surprising by joining the Army. (She was a year overage for the Navy.) The funny part is, her orders came before mine, so I saw my mother off to war. She was assigned to work the telephone switchboard at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, and I served as paymaster at the naval air station in Sanford, Florida. I was a lieutenant (junior grade) at discharge, and Mother was a private first class. After the war she ran the switchboard at a clothing store in Dallas. I married in 1947 and had five children. Later I took a graduate degree and spent twenty-two years teaching and counseling in the Midland, Texas, school system.

“I want to add a bit about what being in the military meant to Mother and to me. In her civilian job she had gotten round-shouldered bending over the switchboard, but after training and in her uniform she stood straight and tall, square-shouldered and beautiful. Being a Navy officer was a boost for me. Even with a college degree, job opportunities weren’t great in 1941, when I graduated. Women had little expectation for advancement, except perhaps to become an executive secretary. In the Navy I was given equality of opportunity, total respect as an officer, and management responsibilities. As paymaster each month I disbursed about a quarter of a million dollars in cash, kept all financial records of the pay office, and supervised eighteen military and civilian workers. It was so gratifying to have a chance to be an executive and not be handicapped for being female. I’m almost ashamed to say how much I enjoyed the whole experience.”

Ensign Parker, left, and Pfc. Parker.
2000_2_136a

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this 72-year tradition of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.

Donate