Research is at once the bane of my existence (so much information and so little time) and a passion that I pursue day in and day out. It is also a necessary endeavor for those who write about history. I am one of those writers, and it is all I can do to tear myself away from following another scatter of breadcrumbs or a tiny thread to what I am sure will be the answer to a burning question.
I plunder the internet on behalf of multiple of endeavors – my latest work in progress (a book again about World War II), this blog “Gone for a Soldier” (about anything military-related that pique’s my interest), and StoriesBehindtheStars.com (a volunteer organization dedicated to profiling all 400,000 American fallen of World War II. So far I’ve written and posted 120 stories to their archive.)
Recently, while combing through one vast site on the Eighth Air Force’s 100th Bomb Group (100thbg.com), I found Patsy. From across a seventy-five year gap since the end of the Second World War, her smile beamed up at me and made me linger on the page. The caption below her photograph reads, Red Cross girl—sadly known only as Patsy—over a half century later.
Patsy was an American Red Cross girl stationed at Thorpe Abbotts airfield during the war. She and the other “girls” provided much more than aspirins, bandages, hot cups of coffee, and donuts. To the men of the 100th and all overseas stations, they were a welcome reminder of the American soldiers’ mothers, wives, sisters, and sweethearts, and all things back home. The site and a handful of books I have paged through include photos, sometimes captioned with the women’s names. Among them, there’s Hilda, Dorothea, and Betty, all smiles standing behind a counter of coffee cups. I found a few scant details about these three:
Hilda Whitaker Purse, was from Chattanooga, Tennessee. She sailed aboard the Queen Mary on her return to the United States on November 27, 1945. She later married the 100th Bomb Group’s flight surgeon, Capt. Emory C. “Doc” Kinder.
Dorothea Jean Durang hailed from Cynwyd, Pennsylvania and shared passage with Hilda on their return from the war. Dorothea later met and married James Morris in 1948.
Betty June Hardman, a thirty-year-old, former elementary school teacher from Detroit, Michigan, served at Thorpe Abbots, returning on November 1945 aboard the Marine Fox. In 1946, she married Ralph V. Porter and lived until the age of sixty-two.
Lately, I’ve been digging for information about the women, intrigued by what motivated them to join the American Red Cross, whether their sense of duty, the thrill of adventure, or the possibility of romance. But I am also determined to give Patsy her due. To find her name, her hometown, and discover what might have happened to her.
At the very least, four characters in my upcoming book will bear the names Betty, Dorothea, Hilda, and Patsy. And by the time the book appears on local bookshelves, I hope to have more to report about the one girl with a big smile.
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