CHARLOTTE, NC, November 9, 2014 – The United States will observe two important military dates this week to honor those who have served to protect our country. Many of whom paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Tuesday is Veteran’s Day and today day, the United States Marine Corps celebrates it 239th birthday.
The Marine Corps motto is “Semper Fidelis, always faithful”, but it is more than just a slogan. For Marines, it is a way of life.
In 1943, with war raging across Europe and throughout the world, Bertha Dixon enlisted as one of the first full-time women Marines in U.S. history.
Shortly after her wedding in the same year, Bertha was separated from her new husband when he was sent to the Azores while serving the Army Air Corps.
The honeymoon was delayed as the new Marine was sent to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina where the unprepared base improvised with blankets hanging in the barracks to provide some amount of privacy for the newly enlisted females in the ranks. Other than that, the women underwent the same training regimen as their male counterparts.
Unlike today, in the 1940s, hazing was an acceptable part of training, and after being transferred to the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point, N.C., Bertha recalled walking the flight line for five hours in search of “prop wash.”
She always laughed as she told the story of her unfulfilled assignment before learning that “prop wash” was nothing more than the air drafts made from the propellers on the planes.
As the war progressed, so did the new recruit, first becoming a platoon leader and then advancing to the rank of staff sergeant.
Among Bertha’s favorite recollections was about the day she was walking back to her barracks when a jeep pulled up beside her and the officer in the vehicle asked if she needed a ride. Bert immediately recognized the driver as then Hollywood heartthrob Tyrone Power, a Marine pilot who was also stationed at Cherry Point.
“I knew I wasn’t supposed to accept a ride from an officer,” Bertha said, “but they could have thrown me in the brig that day if they wanted. I wasn’t going to turn that ride!”
Later in the year, while working with hazardous chemicals, a 50 pound drum exploded and burned the young female sergeant over 90% of her body. Fortunately, fellow Marines quickly immersed her in a barrel of rainwater to dilute the chemicals. Bertha eventually recovered with no side effects from her injuries.
Through it all, until the day she died in 2010, Bertha never let a day go by that she did not speak with pride about her service as a woman Marine.
On one occasion, during the process of being discharged, Bert and her new husband, Walter, were asked to pose for a picture together.
Bertha insisted the photo be taken with her left arm prominently displayed to show that she outranked her husband.
Personality-wise Bert and Walter were polar opposites. “She was a worrier but always looked at the positive side of things,” says youngest son Todd, who himself served 18 years in the Navy. “She was neat and tidy, but not obsessive. She had in her mind the way she wanted things done, and that was the way they were done.”
Following the war, Bert began an annual project to write and create her own Christmas cards. Over the next six decades she produced a different card each year.
Beginning in the summer, Bertha agonized over the words and rhymes for two months to make sure the meter (always rhyming iambic pentameter) and phrasing were just right.
So popular did her hobby become among her friends that the first thing old acquaintances would do if they moved away was call or write so that Bertha would be sure to have the new updated mailing address.
On several occasions Bert received phone calls after the holidays if someone was accidentally overlooked from her Christmas message.
Today as the “greatest generation” gradually fades into our memories among the yellowed pages of history, Bertha, too, passed away in September of 2010 at the age of 88.
More than anything else however, she would have been proudest to see the Marine color guard at her funeral and to witness the tears on the cheeks of the woman Marine at her memorial who cried when she learned of Bert’s service during World War II.
Bert wasn’t unique. There are thousands of stories just like hers, but they need to be told and, more importantly, they need to be remembered.
Bertha Dixon changed her name to Bertha D. Taylor when she was married during the war. Fellow Marines called her “Sgt. Taylor.” Her good friends knew her as “Bert.” As for my brothers and me, well, to us she was just “Mom.”
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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