“I celebrated my 95th birthday this September,” Kathleen said proudly, then crooned in a robust voice, “Sometimes I grew weary and wearier, and life became dreary and drearier, but then I was told, ‘you’re not getting old, you’re just chronologically superior.’ And it’s nice to be superior in at least one category, don’t you think?” Kathleen Eidson, originally in Norwegian, Ejdson, shoulders superiority in the noblest category of all: a superior human being. She is also a United States Marine.
The little town of Coffeeville, Alabama received Kathleen, the youngest of 10 Eidson children, into the community on Sept. 15, 1919, the same day her oldest brother, also a Marine, came home from The Great War, better known as World War One. A sister later served as a Lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps and a brother, Tom, lost his life while serving as a Captain on Anzio Beach in the spring of 1944.
Kathleen’s physician father passed away when she was 6 years old. She said, “We moved to LaGrange, GA in 1925. One of my brothers worked as the high school principal then accepted a position at the old Atlanta Boy’s High School, so we moved to Atlanta to keep the family together. I graduated from the old Atlanta Girl’s High School when I was 15 years old.” Kathleen found employment at a local bank.
She recalled her decision to join the Marines. “When my brother, Tom, lost his life on Anzio Beach, I decided it was time to do my part for the war effort. Since my oldest brother was a Marine, and lived the creed of ‘once a Marine, always a Marine,’ I admired him and wanted to be like him. I enlisted in February, 1945, in the United States Marine Corps Women Reserves, called the USMCWR. We enlisted for the duration of the war.”
At 26 years of age, Kathleen Eidson traveled by train to Camp Lejeune, NC. “I thought that place was huge,” she said. “It gave me an insight into military service. I eventually became a paymaster because of my banking background.”
Asked about her transition to military life, she responded, “Well, you learned to live by a timetable, you answered the call to duty every morning when the bugle sounded reveille or played the colors. We slept in bunk beds, and you had better be sure a quarter could bounce off your sheets in the morning after you made your bed.”
On training assignments: “I had to take care of the Head (latrine). That included the open shower stalls and the ‘facilities’ that were not open for public viewing. One time I came back from paymaster duties to find my name listed for EPD, extra police duty. I was in trouble; The Head had not passed inspection. A bar of soap was discovered in a shower soap holder. Well, I knew something was wrong, but when the D.I. asked, ‘Do you have an excuse, private?’ Of course I answered, “No excuse, sir!” That was always the official response. Another Marine had returned from mess duty and took a shower after I’d cleaned and inspected the Head, but you don’t rat on your group, you accept the discipline and work as a team, because a unit has more influence than an individual. Anyway, I picked up cigarette butts around the area for over a week.”
On Marine Corps Drill Instructors: Kathleen crooned another ditty, “His voice is rough, he’s tough and gruff, he calls us down when we strut our stuff, and he’s salty, oh me oh my, the D.I. from P.I. (Paris Island).” She added, “We considered the D.I.s to be, ‘in a class by themselves.’ Once a new D.I. came in for training by the older D.I. The new D.I. lined us up and kept demanding ‘Heads up, shoulders back, step out!’ The old D.I. just kept watching. The new D.I. said things like, ‘number 3, step forward, now, number 8, step back a little,’ in his mind we didn’t line up properly. The old D.I. finally told him, ‘line them up and gaze down their backs, not their fronts, and they will be in order.’ You see, some of us were better endowed than others so there was no way to line up perfectly in front.”
On military chow: “I thought it was good. I remember the first time we went to mess. I got my food and took the tray to a table, sat down, and ate at my normal pace. Well, I finished and looked around. Patrol 45, my unit, was gone. I hustled outside and there they were, all lined up waiting for me, and singing, ‘Here we stand like birds in the wilderness, waiting for our chow hound.’ From then on I was never the last one out of the mess hall.”
Kathleen observed hand to hand combat training, flame throwers and a wide variety of weapon demonstrations. “We ran an obstacle course but it sure wasn’t as challenging as the men’s course. After completing the 6 week basic training course, I stayed on as paymaster but a lot of the girls fell into jobs normally held by male Marines. Early in the war lady Marines could be assigned about 20 different duties, but by 1945 the ladies were holding down over 300 types of duty to free up more men for the final push of the war.”
On being a lady Marine, Kathleen said, “The Commandant ordered ‘no cutsie acronyms for the lady Marines, but every day going back to the barracks some smart mouth would make a noise like a rocket, one for each lady Marine, like, ‘Fire one, Fire two……fuueeewwwwww…..Bam!’ Well, we thought BAM meant Beautiful American Marine, when in fact it meant Broad A_ _ Marine. We protested to the camp newspaper and they actually printed an article about how male Marines should respect us for holding down jobs so they could fight, that we were critical to the war effort, and we perform admirably. The paper said we were WR’s, which meant Women Reserves. Well, the very next Monday my friend and I were walking back to our barracks when suddenly, ‘Fire one, Fire two…………fuueewwwww…. Bam!’ Another male Marine told the guy, ‘Hey, we can’t do that anymore. We’re to call them WR.’ The smart mouth said, ‘Well, it the same thing, Wide Rear-ends.’ Sometimes you just can’t win.”
Corporal Kathleen Eidson was discharged in June, 1946. She worked 1 month for the same bank then accepted a position at the Lathem Time Corporation as Company Comptroller. She retired as Vice-President of Finance after 37 years.
She has a permanent affiliation with the Women Marine Association, has addressed the Georgia legislature, sings with a Lady Marines Glee Club called the ‘Sometimes Singers’: “We will sing for thee, sometimes, even sing on key, sometimes, when the notes you hear fall on your ear, we will bring you cheer, sometimes.”
Kathleen presents programs at retirement centers, AARP groups, civic organizations, and considers herself a professional ‘Humorist-Story Teller.’ Her attitude, “Live Happily Ever Laughter.” She writes original poetry and instructs classes at the Senior University of Greater Atlanta at Mercer University and the Emory Academy of Retired Professionals at Emory University. Her motto: “We don’t stop laughing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop laughing.”
She’s climbed the Great Wall of China, has taken a hot air balloon over the Serengeti in Kenya, took a month long trip to Tahiti on a cargo freighter, shot the Chattahooche in a raft, and has bragging rights of visiting all 50 states and all 7 continents.
“I love people,” she said. “And I love to laugh; and love people with a sense of humor. One lady without a tooth in her head from Cabbage Town once told me, ‘I guess I’m at that awkward age: too young for Medicare, and too old for men-to-care.’ What a lovely sense of humor she had.”
A devout Methodist, a patriot, and great American, Kathleen broke into another song she wrote before the interview concluded:
“When I was in boot camp, I really was slimmer;
With marching and workouts my figure was trimmer;
But now that I’m older, I face a dilemma,
Because I am no longer fair.
When I was in boot camp, the men were attentive;
To ward off their passes took measures inventive;
Now getting an escort, I need an incentive,
Because I am no longer fair.
When I was in boot camp, a cute smile I crinkled;
Now all of my facial and neck skin is wrinkled;
My once raven tresses with gray hairs are sprinkled,
And so I am no longer fair.”
I disagree. This journalist had the honor and privilege to meet and interview the fairest one of all: Corporal Kathleen Eidson.
Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran, columnist and freelance writer. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or aveteransstory.us.