New Milford woman recalls service in former Marine women’s Reserve
NEW MILFORD — In late 1942, just shy of her 20th birthday, Veronica “Ronnie” Bradley was walking to her Wall Street job when a photo hanging in a storefront — of a woman wearing a Marine Corps hat — caught her eye.
Bradley, who had always loved hats, wanted to know how to get one, so she wrote down the phone number on the poster. When she called, she was offered a spot in the newly formed Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, one of about 25 women selected in New York in the first round of recruitment.
“I had a sense of being a good American,” said Bradley, who lives in New Milford and turns 95 next month.
Boot camp at Hunter College in the Bronx was followed by a graduation ceremony at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and a march down Fifth Avenue. She was sent to training in Indiana before shipping out to an air base in Santa Barbara, Calif., where she was assigned to repair aircraft.
“It was an exciting time,” Bradley said. “I was very proud.”
A year later, Bradley was chosen to be the subject of a recruitment poster, which showed her standing before a warplane in her Marine uniform and hat. The poster reads: “Be a Marine. Free a Marine to fight.”
Floor-to-ceiling replicas of the image now hang in several museums and it has been reproduced on postcards and other posters. It has appeared in documentaries about the war and women’s role in it.
“It’s amazing,” said Bradley’s daughter, Patty Coelho. “It’s so cool to see her up there and seeing people’s reactions to her.”
Bradley hadn’t posed for the image and didn’t even know of it until a friend pointed it out in a poster hanging in the window of a butcher shop. She suspects her picture was used because one of her friends on the base was a photographer and often took photos of her.
Women in the Reserve were given jobs stateside, so the Marine Corps could send more men to fight overseas. The Marines had done the same in World War I, when about 300 women joined its ranks to fill desk jobs.
The Army began accepting women in 1941, and the Navy followed in the summer of 1942 with passage of a bill allowing the Marines to create a women’s Reserve. But adding women was unpopular with many Marines, who cherished their image as an elite force.
The women didn’t begin serving until 1943.
“The men Marines didn’t like it at all,” she said. “I don’t blame them. They have a lot of history and we were getting into that history.”
To help improve the relationship, the women decided to put on a show for the men in a hangar at the air base. It wasn’t until the last dance number — when one woman’s bra strap broke — that the men began cheering.
“It brought everyone together,” she said.
The women in the Reserve were called Marines, rather than a nickname like those used in the Army and Navy.
Maj. Gen. Thomas Holcomb, who at first opposed inclusion of women in the Marines, told Life magazine in 1944, “They don’t have a nickname and they don’t need one. They get their basic training in a Marine atmosphere at a Marine post. They inherit the traditions of Marines. They are Marines.”
Bradley left the Marines when the war ended.
“I signed up for three years, but I think I would have stayed in much, much longer,” she said.
She declined to return for the Korean War because she was married and had started a family. But she regularly attended Marine functions and spent years sharing her story, visiting schools and passing around her Marine Corps hat for students to try on.
In 2011, the Marine Corps honored her as their Marine of the Year.
“The best thing I ever did was go into the Marine Corps,” Bradley said.