ST. ALBANS — In 1943, at the age of 20, Joyce Manchester enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Two of her friends had enlisted and had then come to the Eastman-Kodak plant, where Manchester worked in Milwaukee, Wis., to tell her about it, said Manchester, 91, a resident of Hawk’s Nest.
It was during her service that she met a fellow Marine, Wallace Manchester of St. Albans. The two would marry and eventually move to Vermont.
“You’re 20 years old. There’s a war going on. Suddenly this opportunity comes up,” Manchester said of her decision to enlist.
“My parents were not too crazy about it, of course,” said Manchester.
Manchester was sent to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina for basic training. “Basic training was a whole new kind of life from just being in an office,” said Manchester. “That was a great memory.”
The training involved marching and drilling, as well as classes in first aid, Marine Corps history, and Morse Code. They did have to crawl under barbed wire and cross a field while wearing a gas mask.
She and her friends from Milwaukee were called up within two weeks of one another. They were able to see one another during basic training, but after that were assigned to different bases. “We didn’t see each other until after the war,” said Manchester.
Looking at a picture of her wearing a trench coat and saluting, Manchester turned bashful, embarrassed by the picture. “We were all salute happy,” she said.
For the first two weeks, they didn’t have uniforms, but were issued trench coats and hats to wear over their civilian clothes. Since they lacked a uniform, the women had to wear the coats to the dining hall.
After basic, Manchester was sent to Parris Island, S.C., along with another 150 to 200 other women.
“The theme for the women Marines was ‘free a Marine to fight,'” said Manchester. The women, more than 17,000 of them in the U.S. Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, took over a number of jobs on the home front so the men could be shipped overseas. They served as drivers, telegraph operators, even aerial gunnery instructors, as well as cooks, bakers, laundry operators and clerical staff.
Manchester did clerical work for the warrant officer in the shipping department, as well as assisting with the delivery of the base mail and giving men their clean laundry when no one else was available. The laundry was located next to the shipping office.
She first met Wallace when he came to collect his laundry. “He gave me his ticket. I got his laundry,” she said.
They met again at one of the clubs on base. He was in the naval medical corps.
Although she didn’t drink alcohol, Manchester said she would go with friends to the clubs for a soda. “There was dancing,” she added. It was, after all, the 1940s and the jukebox was filled with Big Band jazz.
“Of course my husband didn’t dance. He didn’t like dancing and I loved it,” said Manchester.
There were also movies shown nightly on large outdoor screens. “That was our entertainment really,” said Manchester. “That and impromptu dancing.”
For Manchester, life wasn’t all that different from that of civilian women her age. She did work similar to what she’d done before enlisting, spent weekends relaxing with friends, and dated.
When she and Wallace decided to marry, she phoned her parents. Their response was, “Huh? Who? Where is he from?” said Manchester. “If it had been a Milwaukee boy it would have been different, but he was a Vermont boy.”
Her mother came to South Carolina for the wedding, the farthest she had ever traveled. She took the train, which was “always filled with soldiers and sailors,” said Manchester.
Manchester was married in her uniform in the base chapel.
By the time she was discharged a few months later, in 1945, she was pregnant. She went home to Milwaukee while Wallace remained in the service. She gave birth to their oldest son before Wallace was discharged.
They moved into veteran’s housing and Wallace began working for the Milwaukee Gas & Light Company. Twenty years later, Wallace said he wanted to return home. She agreed, saying it was only fair since he’d lived in Milwaukee for so long.
In 1965, they moved to St. Albans with their two teenaged daughters. Their son, who was grown, stayed in Milwaukee.
“I said I wanted to be the first in the family to learn to ski,” said Manchester. She took lessons twice a week.
At first she stayed home, but when offered a chance to work in an insurance company she took it. The company later became A.N. Deringer and Manchester worked there until she retired.
Her husband died in 2007, after 63 years of marriage.
This weekend Manchester will take a Veterans Honor Flight, in her case offering free airfare from North Country Honor Flight out of Plattsburgh, N.Y., to visit the war memorials in Washington, D.C., including the one dedicated to women. Her son and his wife visited and were very impressed, she said. They then contacted the organizers of the honors flights, who, in turn, called and offered Manchester a spot on a flight.
Her daughter, Carol Berthiaume, will go with her.
Looking back on her time as a Marine, Manchester said, “You don’t think of it as an adventure. You just go. It’s no different than picking a college.”
“It was a big step,” she said. “I didn’t think of it as a big step, but I’m sure my folks thought of it as a big step.”
One of the two friends who persuaded her to enlist has passed away, but Manchester is still in touch with the other through a organization of women Marine veterans.