Former Wright-Patt base commander tells story of WWII servicewomen

Sue Hill Norrod reached for the folded American flag a sailor in a white dress uniform handed her, marking her mother’s service in the Navy in World War II.

At that moment in the midst of her mother’s funeral in 2015, Norrod said she knew the story of her 91-year-old mother’s time in uniform in decades past, and of thousands of other U.S. servicewomen, had to be told to a new generation of women.

She teamed with Cassie B. Barlow, a retired Air Force colonel and former commander of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, to co-author “Saluting Our Grandmas,” to tell the story of the legions of young women who left their hometowns across America and joined the WAVES to the WASPs, and in roles from pilots to nurses.

“We met and Sue showed up with a very large portfolio,” Barlow said in an interview. “She pulled a book out of the portfolio that was (titled) ‘Saluting Our Grandpas.’ And I flipped through it really quick and I said, ‘What about Saluting Our Grandmas’? And she said, ‘I was really hoping you were going to say that.’”

The two co-authors worked with six contributors to write the book, “Saluting Our Grandmas,” published this month by Pelican Publishing Co.

“Back during World War II, the entire country came together around the war, from victory gardens and (war) bonds and rationing,” said Barlow, 51, of Beavercreek. “Everybody was part of the war effort. Everybody.”

The authors have a book signing scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, May 13 at the Barnes & Noble, 2720 Towne Drive, Beavercreek. The book has a brief military biography on Barlow, who is today the executive director of the Wright State University Aerospace Professional Development Center.

“Saluting Our Grandmas” chronicles the journey of Norrod’s mother, Pauline, from Dayton to boot camp at Hunter College in the Bronx to wartime service as a machinist mate at a naval air station in Memphis, Tenn., in 1944, and decades later an Honor Flight from Dayton to Washington, D.C. Her mother was a Naval Reserve sailor in the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, better known as the WAVES.

“My mother has always been very, very patriotic but she was so shy,” said Norrod, 58, of Jamestown and a substitute teacher and writer. “In fact, when I taught history at East Dayton Christian, she would never come talk about World War II. She was just too shy.”

The 177-page book explores the earliest beginnings of American women in military service, traveling back to the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, highlighting women who dressed in men’s uniforms to secretly fight on the front lines of battle.

It profiles individual servicewomen in World War II, including chapters on Elaine Danforth, of Maryland, a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots; Martha Miller, an Army nurse from Washington state ; and Dorothy Mae Wise, of Ohio, who was part of the Women’s Army Corps.

The book also tells the story of Navy WAVES at Sugar Camp in Dayton, women who built National Cash Register’s “Bombe,” a decoding machine that broke a secret German U-boat Enigma code and was credited with shortening the war.

And the book highlights not only those women who broke gender but racial barriers, among other topics.

“The original intent of the book was to have young ladies read the book and see what women before them had accomplished and kind of motivate them to follow in their footsteps and to reach for the stars, the same as these women did,” Barlow said.

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