Honoring & Remembering: Clay County Veterans’ Stories

Fern Leora Marcotte Morse was born in Vermillion, Sept. 30, 1920. She attended school in the Vermillion Public Schools.

In February of 1943, she joined the WAAC and went to Omaha, NE for Boot Camp. Her job at the camp was KP, doing dishes and making beds. The beds had to be made with the sheets so tight that when a quarter was dropped on the bed the quarter would jump a certain height. If it didn't, you were a gig and had to do extra duty.
At that time the white and black soldiers were separated and she worked in the black mess hall. While she was in the middle of steaming the silverware another woman from her barracks ran into the mess hall and shouted, "You have your orders and you have to come now."

So she left the silverware and went to headquarters. She was to pack her bags and get on the troop train which would take them to Kansas City to stay at the Hotel Aladdin on the 13/14th floor. She went to the Midland Radio and Television School. She passed her exam with the highest speed which was 35 words per minute in Morse code. She was a radio operator. Her official title was Tech 5th Grade which was equal to a corporal. She was a WAC.
She then, with many other women, was sent to get more training at Camp Crowder in Missouri. They went in a troop train and their car went off the track and they had to be side carded while the rest of the train kept going. They were left there for about two days with no food, water or toilet facilities. A few brave girls hiked to the next town and bought a few supplies.

When the officer in charge came he told them to fall out with full gear. At first none of the girls would do it because their bags were so heavy. Fern had a flat iron in one bag and a hat bag in another beside everything else. Finally, Fern and a few others fell out in full gear and when the officer saw how much they had to carry, they sent after trucks. The trucks carried the bags and they had to march in formation to the barracks.

After arriving at the camp, they took them to the mess hall and fed them. After that they went to their barracks. There were no curtains or shades on the windows and hundreds of men looking in. The next day there were armed guards placed all around the four barrack buildings for the women.

Extended training in teletype, Morse Code light training, typewriter with code tape, bug and key for sending was required, but when she arrived on duty, she didn't send at all, she just received. At the end of their training, half of the women went west and half went east. She went east and was assigned to Vintbill Farm, VA.

It was a set up to look like a farm from the air. All the officers were in the "barn". The barracks were in a grove of trees. It was really cold and there were cracks in the walls. They had to make their own pot-bellied coal stoves work or not have any heat. So, the girls who had experiences with that form of heating were the keepers of the stove. Fern was one of them. Each woman was assigned to a trick in the barracks. She was in trick seven which was at the back of the barracks. Each trick held about 25 women.

Sunday dinners were fried chicken for the women and creamed chicken for the men. Needless to say, the men did their best to be a guest of one of the women on Sundays.

The people in her line of work were called "code jerks". Navajo Indians and Japanese code jerks worked by themselves, so Fern didn't know what their work entailed. She received code from two radios. Some of the men didn't like having the women there so we were watched like hawks. One man in one of the offices was leaving and had to be replaced. Fern applied. Another man wanted the job, so to prove they were better than the women, that man decoded a message and then Fern decoded the same one. Her's was correct and his was full of errors. She became the second woman to work in that office.

When they went to leave they went to Washington, DC and stayed at a little hotel which catered to women. No man was allowed on the premises. Her brother, who was in the Navy tried and he was not given any special favors.

When she entered the service they didn't have uniforms for them. They had to wear their own clothing. It didn't take long and they received them. Everything was brown and since she had brown hair and eyes she felt like she was one brown blob. She thought the food was good. When she was in school in Virginia, she ate at a local café. She thought the food served in the mess hall was good.

She doesn't have her dog tags because everything that was packed away in a box at her parent's home disappeared. She has no idea where it is.
Her brother, Morris Marcotte was in the Navy while she was in. He served on a LST and is the brother who visited her in Washington, DC.

 The hardest part of being in the service for her were the adjustments she had to make.  Sharing room with several women, sleeping in bunk beds and having to wear her own clothes, not knowing if what she wore would be acceptable.
For a while she wrote to a couple of guys, but then Warren visited her on his leave and asked her to marry him. She accepted his proposal and were married in an Episcopal Church in Warrenton, VA, Aug. 21, 1943. Her captain wanted to give her a couple of extra days off, but she told him it wasn't necessary because Warren was going right back to his ship. When she became pregnant with their first child she left the service in December 1944.

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