A different war
Hartselle woman served country in WWII
Tracy B. Cieniewicz, Hartselle Enquirer
Roberta Gorham would rather be following her favorite sports teams on ESPN than Iraqi war coverage on CNN, but her loyalty and concern lies first with those serving in the American military, just as she did over 60 years ago.
As she watches, Gorham worries about American casualties.
She worries about mothers and fathers having to leave their children behind.
She worries that former POW Pfc. Jessica Lynch, 19, will have a hard time forgetting the physical and mental trauma she faced during an ambush on her company.
Gorham, 83, of Hartselle served her country during WWII in the Women's Army Corp.
Stationed in New Guinea and the Philippines during her two year tour of duty, Gorham's company did not engage in battle. The women received messages from Army headquarters in code and notified troops when it was safe to advance.
Gorham said it may not sound like much, especially compared to the contributions female soldiers make today, but it was enough.
"Women do much more now," Gorham said. "Maybe too much."
When Gorham graduated from Fairview High School in 1940, she never dreamed fate would lead her across an ocean and into war. Her dreams revolved mostly around being a nurse, which is how her adventure began.
"I took a job working in the lunchroom at the very same school I graduated from," Gorham said. "I was raised in the country and worked in the fields my whole life up until then. We had no money and no transportation, so I rode the bus with the students, like I had when I was in school, to get back and forth to work. We lived 15 miles from Fairview, so this was the only real opportunity I had."
Gorham said her opportunities broadened when a government recruiter walked into the lunchroom one day looking for ladies to join a nursing project in Huntsville.
"I had always wanted to be a nurse," Gorham said. "But I didn't talk about it much because I knew my family didn't have the money or the means to send me to nursing school."
Gorham was just what the recruiter was looking for and soon got the call to go to Huntsville.
However, Gorham's studies were cut short when WWII was declared and the government nursing project was cancelled.
But Gorham did not go home.
"I signed on for the Women's Auxiliary Corp to help with the war effort," Gorham said. "The Army wasn't prepared for women to serve, so we went through basic training in our civilian clothes."
Gorham still has the yellowed letter from Fort McClellan dated Dec. 23, 1942 that notified her of her acceptance. She trained on the beaches of Daytona, Fla., and reenlisted into the U.S. Army on Aug. 14, 1943.
"This was not the auxiliary," Gorham said. "This was the real thing."
Gorham smiled as she recalled the night her company shipped out to New Guinea.
"We pulled out of San Francisco and went right under the Golden Gate Bridge," she said. "It was 17 days of being hot and sea sick, but we didn't complain."
During her time in New Guinea, Gorham said she saw plenty of pythons outside of her hut and the occasional shell casing during her walks through the woods, but she never actually saw battle.
"We never hardly even saw a man," Gorham said. "But a women's purpose in the war was different then."
At the end of her service in 1945, Gorham remembers a particular sight she wishes she had never seen.
"The airstrip in Finch Haven, New Guinea was lined as far as you could see with caskets covered with American flags," Gorham said. "That's probably why our footlockers never made it back to the States-they were trying to mail all those boys' bodies home."
After returning to the States, Gorham married and attended Sacred Heart Academy on the G.I. Bill. She has lived in Hartselle since 1953 and has been a substitute teacher at F.E. Burleson Elementary School for 38 years, where she is better known as "Mrs. G."
"I feel like all the kids that have gone through Burleson are mine," she said.
For that, and for her experience in WWII, she does not regret never having become a nurse.
"If I had it all to do over again today, I would do it exactly the same."