by Eileen Neiler
Eileen A. Morgan Neiler born in East Conemaugh, Pennsylvania on 16 December 1923, the only child of John and Edna Morgan. Growing up during the Great Depression required moving many times as my father sought work. This sometimes meant spending only one year in any particular school. Most of my elementary school years were spent in Rochester, Pennsylvania and after eighth grade we returned to Conemaugh for my high school years. In my freshman year Mr. Bruno, my music teacher, asked me to play the glockenspiel in the marching band. This required me to translate the music of the first trumpets for my instrument so I played every note they did; none of that occasional ding-ding heard in more modern bands. When band training was done outside so we could practice marching, we were tutored by two brothers who had served in the Army during World War I, so I was familiar with “dress right,” “forward march” and several other terms. With no chance of going to college, my studies focused on those that would make me employable. My shorthand speed was 120 words a minute; typing was about 60 wpm with fairly good accuracy. I was honored to be chosen to play in the All County Band and also sang second alto in the All County Chorus. On graduation night Mr. Bruno had asked me to sing a solo from the opera Samson. I graduated from high school in May 1941 and went to work in a drug store with a soda fountain. By the next May there were very few of the young men from my class still in town. Some of the girls soon got jobs in Washington.

Doing one’s part for the war effort required rationing certain foods, car fuel, and clothing items; metal items became scarce. The roar and smoke from the blast furnaces in the Bethlehem Steel Mills, the locomotives belching smoke as they kept up the steam in the engines for the Pennsylvania Railroad trains so necessary to transport material for the war effort kept our small town quite busy and not very atmospherically clean. There were times when women would need to bring in the clothes from the clotheslines and do-over because of the dirty air. Clothes driers had yet to be invented. There were posters urging women to “Free a Man to Fight” and later, indicating a place in the military, those under the age 21 would require parental approval. In February 1943 the Marine Corps indicated they needed women. It seemed as though every house in town had a Gold Star flag in the front window. Not far from my home the town erected a billboard upon which were printed the names of those who had become casualties, some were classmates. A day or two after my birthday in 1944 I took the train into Pittsburgh and enlisted in the Marine Corps and was called to report for active duty 27 February 1945. After another assembly in Washington, it was another long train ride to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina to boot camp in 49 th Training Company, Co. C Platoon 5. Boot camp started with a G.I. Party! Wow! A party, which taught us how to properly clean the barracks, make up our double-decker bunks upon which the Sgt. could bounce a quarter to make sure the covers were tight! Other classes consisted in learning military language (many words and terms I still use today), military courtesy, marching and saluting skill, conquering the obstacle course. My Buddies were from all over the Eastern U.S. so I learned many new accents and terminologies. After Boot Camp I received 30 days of mess duty. The Sgt asked if there was anyone who was not afraid of big, sharp knives. As I had been my Father’s son and knew how to dress wild game and fish I held up my hand and thus I became the meat cutter’s helper and one of the best mess duties I ever had. We prepared the meats needed for the day first thing in the morning and then had the rest of the day off! I learned how to ride a bike and with the help of a guy who had been I lifesaver in Maine, I learned how to swim. I no longer remember his name but I will never forget how I met him; that story for another time.

After mess duty I was sent up the way to Cherry Point, the Marine Air Base, to become part of AWRS-19, AWRG-1. I became an Engineering Clerk and worked in the Radio and Radar repair lab. I was responsible for keeping track of equipment and repair jobs. The men treated me as one of the team and gave me several nicknames like “Short Stuff,” “Sarge,” (I made Corporal) “Blond Job,”…it was all in fun, even hearing that “Fire One!, Fire Two,” “Bam, Bam” when in town with friends. Active duty ended on 13 June 1946 and I went back home to take advantage of the GI Bill and go to the University of Pittsburgh which had a campus in Johnstown. Hoping to build upon my rather good secretarial background I added Spanish language to my courses in hopes of building skills as a bi-lingual secretary; job offers, at that time in South America, were pretty good.

So many of my class mates were also veterans and sometimes after an evening class we would get together for a beer and talk. I have often wondered if our close talks helped many men escape from what we now know as PTSD; only a couple of us were women veterans. We gals had much in common but I soon learned that civilian women did not know what to do with us and sometimes their understanding of what we did does not need to be stated here. Although the Marines had been quick to demob us they soon changed their minds and opened the Inactive Reserves to women. I had really liked my job in the Marines and would have considered staying on after peace was declared so I signed up on 16 September 1947 and served until 28 March 1951. I have a photo from the Johnstown Tribune taken when I and another gal signed up, giving us recognition as the first in the area to answer the call.

One of the wonderful guys I met at Pitt was John Neiler. He served in the Army as an officer in the 517 the P.I.R. and continued his service taking reserve duty every year and advancing in rank to Major General. John was majoring in physics and working toward his Ph.D. He received an AEC Fellowship for two years and Dr. Snell in the Physics Division in Oak Ridge was his mentor. A job offer followed and that is how we came to Oak Ridge. While working at X-10, John and some of his close friends had an idea or two (scintillation counters) and started ORTEC the company grew and was taken over by Perkin Elmore.

After marriage and the birth of our first child, it just wasn’t working out on two GI bills and living in Pittsburgh without family nearby so I dropped out of college to give John more time to concentrate on his goals. On my once a week free night I joined the Downtown Chorale, a group that often did programs with the Pittsburgh Symphony; I sang tenor. After arriving in Oak Ridge I tried to keep active with the local chorus group but other life factors made regular contact difficult. However, as things
worked out there were other community organizations that were soon expanding my education and my experiences.

My affiliation with Girl Scouts began in 1955 when my daughter Morgen became interested. We had a Volkswagon Microbus and there were no rules regarding seat belts etc. so I was a rather valuable parent who could transport many girls to various locations. One thing led to another and I was soon a co-leader. Being out in the wilderness with many youths and sharp knives and saws made me aware of safety issues so I took First Aid class and then became a First Aid Instructor. I was often asked to accompany other groups on camping trips or events in order to serve as an extra adult or “camp nurse.” As my skills increased I became an assistant trainer in basic, primitive and advanced outdoor skills and cooking. Other jobs in scouting soon followed and by 1962 I was asked to serve as Field Vice President for the Highland Rim Council. I was honored to serve in 1966 on the committee to welcome Lady Baden Powell when she came to this area for a GS rally. Next thing I knew I was Council President and the national organization had decided to combine smaller councils into larger, more economical entities; Highland Rim was absorbed by Tanasi and Cumberland Valley but that did not mean I was out of a job!

My new job was as Field Vice President and 1971-76 I was Tanasi GS Council President (1973- gave 5 months as temporary Executive Director). I attended several National Scout conventions and was asked to serve as a teller during elections at a couple of meetings. At the same time, I was also active in other groups in my community. Although I did not sing, I did serve on the Board for the Oak Ridge Civic Music Assoc. in the early 1960’s. 1962-82 active in Green Thumb Garden Club, we maintained 3 garden plots for the city and also on its Beautification Committee. Before so many women went 9-5, there were several garden clubs in Oak Ridge and it was our goal to work with the city Parks Department to beautify the city. This worked until about 1990. I also was a member of Altrusa International; a couple of years with the Humane Society. From ~1965-1986 was on the Board of Directors for United Way of Anderson County with duties as secretary and vice president and then President 1980-82. Ridgeview Hospital Board of Directors 1983-98. I was President of the Tanasi GS Council in 1972 when Troop 69 applied for a Reader’s Digest Grant to begin the Children’s Museum in Oak Ridge and I readily gave my signature; I maintained my closeness by serving as a docent for many years.

In 1965 I became active at Recording for the Blind, one of eight studios across the country. Later the title was amended to include “…and Dyslexic” so that other vision issues could be included. This service began after WWII when many veterans needed reliable readers to stay current with their textbooks and was started by a lady in New York City. The name has been changed once again to Learning Ally and the office is now located in Princeton. With advanced electronic devises we no longer need soundproof booths for recording and the studio in Oak Ridge is closed in January 2013. In any case, I was a reader for just about any subject except hard sciences and math. I read twice a week for about two hours at a time, I truly have no idea of my total hours. I became more active in the Arboretum Society in 1994 serving on the editorial board and currently as Historian for the Society. As a writer I am co-author of “And The Fence Came Down” a history of the local Girl Scouts and more recently for
bringing the history of the Arboretum Society up to date.

I have not sought rewards or honors for my service but the Girl Scouts gave me Thanks Badge in 1965 and another one in 1998. Girl Scout Council Piper 1966 (a National project). In 1976 a GSUSA and Council Bicentennial project “Hidden Heroines,” chosen twice.1978 plaque for Devoted Service from Oak Ridge Area Girl Scouts and in 1985 a gold pendant from ORAN in recognition for legal efforts to save local camp. 1996 JC Penny Golden Rule Award for service to Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic and in 1998 Thanks plaque from Ridgeview Psychiatric Hospital for many years of service. Today when people thank me for my military service I always respond, “My country and my duty to serve.”

Life Member Eileen Morgan Neiler, Life Member # 2330 and member of Rocky Top Chapter, TN-1.  Eileen turned 100 years old on December 16, 2023,

Eileen Neiler at the Knoxville Veteran Day Parade 2022