Semper Fi Fond Memories

By Pat McTaggart, Freelance Writer
In 1943, 20-year-old Elaine Syverson made a life-changing decision. Baffling her co-workers, Elaine announced that she was going to quit her job in payroll auditing at the Great Lakes Naval Station and enlist in the United State Marine Corps Women’s Reserve.

“Some of them couldn’t understand why I would quit a good paying job, and others wondered why I would choose the Marines over the Navy,” she said.  “Recruiting posters saying ‘We want you to be a Marine—Free a Marine to Fight’ made the decision for me. If I could be doing a job that would let another Marine to fight for his country, I would do it.”

Syverson was born in Elkader. She attended Elkader Junior College before heading off to her job at Great Lakes.

Since she was only 20, she had to get her mother’s permission to enlist.

“My father passed away in 1930, leaving my mother with five children to raise,” she said. “Three of my brothers were already in the military, two in the Army and one in the Navy, and that seemed to be enough for her.”

“I finally told her that I would be 21 in September, and would still enlist, so she relented,” she added.  “I spent my 21st birthday in boot camp at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.  Back then, the Marines didn’t allow women to join the regular Marines. That’s why the Women’s Reserve was created on February 13, 1943. We were completely separated from the men. We had our own PX, dispensary, recreation hall and mess hall. In the camp, there were four barracks for women, each containing 300 of us.”

After six weeks of learning to march, studying the history of the Marine Corps and getting a feeling for military life, Syverson earned her first stripe. She was now a PFC. Next stop was Quartermaster School, where conditions were a little more relaxed.

“We were fed family-style in the mess hall, with eight to a table,” she said. “The food was excellent because we were being fed by students in cooks’ and bakers’ school. We also learned what it meant to be in the Quartermaster Corps and how to supply equipment to the troops.”

Syverson graduated as one of the top six in her class, giving her a double rank status, which skipped her from PFC to sergeant. It had been only 18 weeks since she had become a Marine. 

On January 24, 1944, she was transferred to the new women’s camp at the Marine Corps base at Parris Island, South Carolina. She was immediately offered the top job for Quartermaster as Assistant to the Women’s Reserve Battalion Quartermaster.

“That job finally freed up my Marine to fight,” she said.  “Our job was to provide all supplies, with the exception of the mess hall, PX and dispensary to the 1,200 plus Women’s Reserves billeted in our area.”

During the next 28 months, she was promoted to Staff Sergeant and then to Technical Sergeant (Supply). On May 15, 1946, she was placed in charge of the final contingent of the Women’s Reserves to leave Parris Island and transferred to Henderson Field in Arlington, VA. She received her Honorable Discharge in late August 1946.

All five of the Syverson children served their country during the war.  Her younger sister was in the Cadet Nurse Corps when the war ended.  Two of her brothers also served in both World War II and the Korean War.

In May, 2010, Syverson was part of an Honor Flight that took World War II veterans to Washington D.C.  “That trip was wonderful,” she said.  “It was the greatest thing you could do.  I hope they keep doing it for World War II and Korean War veterans, and I hope they will add Viet Nam veterans to the list.  I would recommend it to anyone who is eligible to go.”

Syverson has absolutely no regrets about her service.  “I met some of the greatest gals on the face of the earth,” she said.  “A lot of them are now deceased, but I still keep in touch with a few of them.  I wouldn’t give up those three years of my life to serve Uncle Sam for all the money in the kingdom.  It was a fantastic experience.”



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