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A Tribute to Patriotism, Adventure and Sisterhood

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There’s a birthday party Saturday in Seal Beach, where women in their 70s will blow out candles and let their minds drift back to that turbulent but exhilarating time when they made a major decision as they reached their 20s. They didn’t just support our boys during World War II--they joined them.

The party is their own celebration of the 54th anniversary of the Women’s Army Corps (WACs). You can be sure Kay Boettger of Huntington Beach will be there. Her grandfather served in the Civil War, her father in World War I. So it was a natural that Boettger and her sister Evelyn would join the military when the U.S. entered World War II.

“You have to look at the circumstances,” says Boettger, explaining why it was an easy decision to volunteer. “We just got real patriotic.”

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The group gathering Saturday is the Queen City chapter of the Women’s Army Corps Veteran Assn., whose members are from the Orange County/Long Beach area. Attendance at their monthly gatherings is small but enthusiastic. And their excitement grows when they discover another female war veteran. A few years ago, for example, they met Jackie Vogel of Irvine at a Universal Studios veterans gathering, and invited her to join.

Vogel, who still runs her own publishing company, chuckled when I asked her why she signed up to be a WAC. (The first year the word “auxiliary” was in the title). “I was single and 21 and raring to go,” was her response. “Where else could you be at that time that was more exciting?”

Vogel had what she considers the good fortune of being assigned overseas--first in England, then at Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s headquarters at Versailles in France.

“All the men were called to the front and we started filling their jobs,” she explains. Which is how, as a master sergeant, she became secretary to the chief of psychological warfare.

The Queen City chapter shares a problem similar to other groups whose primary membership comes from World War II:

“Our numbers are diminishing,” says Jean Earnshaw of Long Beach, one of the organizers of the Saturday party. “It’s just a truth of life that as time goes on some of our girls die.”

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Adds Boettger: “The older we get, the fewer we are, which makes it even more important that we share times together.”

But what’s also a little sad to many of these women, they can’t seem to attract many younger members. The group isn’t just for World War II vets. It’s open to any former WACs, and even current women in the military.

“It’s just hard to get younger ones interested for some reason,” Boettger says. “I really think we’ve lost some of our sense of patriotism.”

If you are a female Army veteran, I’m sure the women in this group would be glad to save you a piece of cake. The party is at the community room of the Fidelity Federal Bank on Seal Beach Boulevard at noon.

Bringing the War Home: A few weeks ago I wrote about Herbert Brill of Corona del Mar, who flew a B-17 shot down over France during World War II. Since then I’ve had the chance to talk to numerous veterans who flew in either B-17s or B-24s, or just people who admired the fliers of those planes.

Now you can see these planes for yourself, and even explore them for a small fee. A B-17 and a B-24 will fly in to Martin Aviation at John Wayne Airport today and remain on display through Saturday. They’re being brought in as part of Martin’s open house Saturday, when it will dedicate its new $4.2-million general aviation complex. Martin’s Vi Smith suggests that with these planes as background, it will be “an opportunity for veterans to get together and reminisce, find old friends and generally help preserve the history of these two aircraft and the era.”

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It’s Your Call: The Orange County Bar Assn. is celebrating Law Day USA all month, and included is some free legal advice. It’s a program called “Call-A-Lawyer.”

Friday evening--6 to 9 p.m.--it will have 25 volunteer attorneys sitting by the telephone to field a wide variety of your questions, from landlord-tenant disputes and bankruptcy to family law. Spanish-speaking lawyers are included too.

Here is the phone number to call: (800) 278-5050.

If you forget to call but still have questions, the bar’s staff and other volunteer lawyers will be on hand at the Orange County Swap Meet in Costa Mesa on Saturday. They’ll hand out brochures and information on legal resources available to you.

No Postage Necessary: The mail carrier in your neighborhood wants to collect more than just your cards and letters Saturday. Carriers will also pick up any canned foods you want to donate, part of their annual food drive for needy families. Last year the carriers hauled in 22,500 tons nationwide.

Wrap-Up: One bonus that comes from women joining veterans groups: They find long-lost friends. A few years ago at one joint gathering, Boettger came across Bea Thomas of Oceanside. The two WAC friends hadn’t seen each other in almost 50 years.

“But we picked up our friendship just like it had been yesterday,” Boettger says. Thomas died last year, a sad loss to Boettger. But how wonderful, she knows, that they’d found each other.

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I agree. Which is why I want to help Jackie Vogel find Marjorie Bird. The two had joined up together 54 years ago, but immediately went different directions.

“I’ve placed ads, done everything I can to find her,” Vogel says. “I’d give anything to see her again.”

She’s been told that Bird lives in Southern California. If you know Marjorie Bird, former WAC, perhaps by a different last name now, I’d be glad to take your call.

Jerry Hicks’ column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Readers may reach Hicks by calling the Times Orange County Edition at (714) 966-7823 or sending a fax to (714) 966-7711.

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