February 1944 The Grand Rapids Platoon

On February 12, 1944, 29 women left Grand Rapids, Mi to go to Camp Lejuene, NC.  Now over 67 years later Phyllis Savio Barnard Lee is trying to track down who is left from this Michigan Platoon.

By Phyllis Savio Lee

Phyllis Lee 1944

It was Sunday morning, Dec 7, 1941. My family radio was on and we listened to a report over that airwaves that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. American ships were sinking. The ones that were afloat were burning and no one knew how many servicemen had died. What could I do? I was just one person.

Our nation was at war and all of our lives were changed forever. Everything was rationed. You couldn’t get sugar, butter, milk, coffee or clothing. America needed ships, planes, ammo and every man, woman and child was involved in the war effort.

On a dare, my friend and I were ready to join the Marines. We went to Grand Rapids, Michigan to enlist. After physicals and written tests I was ready to report to to Detorit for the women’s troop train which took us with numerous stops in states, all along the way to our final destination at Camp Lejeune, NC. By the way, I won the dare; my firend was not old enough to join.

The Grand Rapids Platoon

After boot camp that started February 2, 1944, I wanted to be a parachute rigger, but the school was filled. They assigned me to Motor Transport at Camp Lejeune in June of 1944. I learned that I could change tires, service vehicles and drive K7 and K8 Internationals after only having a driving life experience of only four whole months. We were told to save the vehicles at all costs. We could be replaced but the vehicles could not.

Phyllis S Lee working on her vehicle.

Remembering Onslow Bay, this is where we transported the Marines for training to go over the side of a ship and down the ropes, while carrying a full pack, into a landing craft. The women tried it one times. We got down but there was no landing craft to take us back. So we all went swimming.

After Motor Transport school, my orders were to report to Norfolk, Virginia, South Annex on Hampton Road. South Annex was a guard and supply unit. Men were coming back from the Pacific theatre to finish their time. I was assigned to drive the heavy trucks, a K7 International. It was used as a school bus to pick up the Marine’s school children from off the base. Also assigned to my bus was a WWI seasoned Marine Staff Sgt Sylvester. His job was to keep the children from falling out of the truck. In between those jobs, I would get a trip with the Jeep to pick up officers for transport. I fell in love with that Jeep.

After the war, they were bringing back all of the old equipment. A ship with Jeeps still in the crates were being unloaded at Norfolk and we were allowed to buy those excess Jeeps. I wanted one. My Sarge said he would get me one if I came up with the money. I wired my Dad and got the money. But there was only one jeep per customer. So Sarge got his jeep but I didn’t. Oh Well. It only took me 62 more years to get my Jeep. I am now  the proud owner of a 1947 Willy Jeep. It is very similar to the jeep I drove while in the Marines. My Jeep and I take part in the Veteran’s Day parade every year in Deland, FL.

Phyllis in her jeep

Recently I was honored and privileged to take the Freedom Honor Flight to Washington D.C. My trip was sponsored by the DeLand Rotary Club. As our flight touched down in Washington and we taxied to the gate, we were given a water cannon salute to honor all on board with a great welcome to our Nation’s Capitol. There were about 300 people in the terminal to greet us and wave American flags. A very special time for me was spent with my Florida Congressman, John Mica, riding on board our bus. As we were escorted through the terminal one man came out of the crowd and shook my hand. “Thank you,” he said. My reaction was for what?? I did not realize until after I returned home from my special day and was reflecting back over the events. Most on board the trip were WWII vets. I became emotional going back to remember what we achieved. My heart was full of pride and honor for the special time in my life for all the friends and all the experiences at such an important time in our Country’s history.

Honor Air does not go to the Women in Military Service Memorial at Arlington so my daughters took me back there. I was very moved by the sacrifices made by every woman who gave part of her life  in service to her country.

Every Marine should make an extra effort to visit the Marine Corps Museum at Quantico. Here resides the proud history of the U.S. Marine Corps. At the WWII display overwhelming feelings flooded my memory, both sad and good. One thing is for sure, no words can describe the honor it is to be a Marine.

Ready to Roll USMCWR Drivers 1944
Camp Lejeune, NC 1944 Grand Rapids Platoon
Still Stunning in Uniform