Saturday, November 12, 2005

Mary Baker, Mapleton resident

(note: Mary Baker is a resident of Mapleton Mobile Home Park. This article appeared in the Daily Camera).

Women's role key in World War II
By Kim Castleberry, Camera Staff Writer
November 11, 2005

When Mary Baker decided to go into the military, she couldn't just sign up.

Her father and the local minister had to give their permission first.

That's just the way it worked in 1944 for women wanting to serve in World War II.

Baker, 81, who's lived in the Boulder area since 1956, joined the Navy and was sent to San Diego. She took care of some of the war's most seriously wounded soldiers returning from battles in Okinawa, Japan, and Saipan, Guam.

Although Baker said she doesn't like talking about how difficult her work could be at times, she is hoping that people start paying more attention — especially on Veterans Day — to the role women played in the second world war.

More than 350,000 women served in World War II, which was the first war that women served in as U.S. officers. More than 200 American military women died in action overseas.

But many, like Baker, were needed to fill positions that kept them in the United States.

"It was so rewarding to take care of these men," she said. "I was doing my part and I felt needed."

Along with treating wounds, Baker said the daily personal interactions she had with soldiers gave her the most satisfaction. She said she remembers getting soldiers ready to see their families by shaving them, sewing new badges onto their uniforms and just making them look "nice."

"Some of these guys were really hurt, like missing legs or arms," she said. "And it just meant the world to them to look good for when their families came to see them."

One of her proudest moments came in front of her own family.

Baker and her dad, a World War I veteran, used to celebrate Veterans Day by having dinner at the American Legion in Baker's hometown in Kansas. So when she completed her two years of service, her dad took her there the following Veterans Day to have dinner.

"I was the first real woman veteran to go there," she said. "And everybody was so happy to see me back."

By the end of 2004, there were an estimated 178,000 living women veterans of World War II.

Baker is part of an organization called WAVES, or Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. The Colorado chapter is based in Denver and meets once a month mainly to do charitable work, like sending supplies to troops in Iraq or supporting local events honoring veterans.

Miriam Denham, 84, of Longmont, is also a WAVES member. She helped soldiers undergoing psychiatric care at a Naval hospital in Philadelphia during World War II. She served in the Navy for nearly three years.

Like Baker, she said the contributions women made need to be recognized more.

Denham said joining the military and helping the war effort was something most of the women she knew wanted to do back then. Her husband is a World War II veteran who served in Europe.

"Everyone wanted to serve," she said. "The war was on, and our boyfriends were in service. We all wanted to do something that was helpful and meaningful."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Kim Castleberry at (303) 473-1360 or

Copyright 2005, The Daily Camera. All Rights Reserved.

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