As the Chronicler, a high school junior, left the new (and first) radio station in Valdosta, Ga., its Teletype machines began to ring and chatter as though the world were splitting into pieces. It was Dec. 7, 1941.
On this Memorial Day, it's appropriate to remember the often forgotten 340,000 women who served in World War II.
"Women in the Military, a Jewish Perspective," the current exhibit at the National Museum of American Jewish Military History, picks up their story on May 15, 1942, when the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps became official.
Sandor B. Cohen, the museum's curator, began work in 1991 on the splendid show of photographs and proclamations, accompanied by a 72-page illustrated catalogue.
"Never in history has there been such an urgent need for the services of American women. This is total war--a war in which every woman as well as every man must play a part," recruitment posters proclaimed.
The first to join up found pay, rank, benefits and entitlements were far less for "mere" women volunteers. They even had to wear ill-fitting uniforms tailored for men.
Finally, on July 3, 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt--perhaps at the insistence of Eleanor--signed the hard-fought bill establishing the Women's Army Corps, entitling its members to "full military status." Houston newspaper editor and Texas parliamentarian Oveta Culp Hobby was its first director.
Charlene Cohen, now of Rockville, was a University of Minnesota student in her early twenties when she volunteered.
She told the Chronicler: "My mother wanted to go with me. But not all my relatives felt that way."
After basic training at the Women's Induction Center in Fort Des Moines, Iowa--where "We studied everything but weapons," Cohen said--she was sent to London to the U.S.'s European Theater of Operations, headed by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.
"There were 10,000 military members traveling on the Queen Elizabeth. It was supposed to be a secret," Cohen said.
"It took us five days to get across. We landed on D-Day, with German buzz bombs dropping from the skies and Lord Haw-Haw broadcasting from Germany that he was aiming at us," she said.
Cohen was stationed in London from June to December 1944, then in Paris for 10 months.
"Our intelligence team interrogated captured members of the German high command, looking for information on jet propulsion. I didn't speak German but I did know French."
Cohen was, to put it mildly, disappointed "when everybody but me was promoted. So I took a plane over to Wiesbaden and Berchtesgaden--the first American woman to go to Germany after the peace settlement." Her colonel realized the injustice and she was promoted to corporal.
Back home in November 1945, Cohen was bored with "people fussing about food stamps and lack of nylons. So I came to Washington and worked in the Defense Department's counterintelligence. I went on to the State Department's international security affairs."
In 1961, she left to have her daughter, and now she has two grandsons. "I forgot all the bad things," she said.
Retired Washington elementary school teacher Fay Shulman feared her enlistment would "kill my father. But to my surprise, he agreed. I always claim I ended the war. I enlisted in the Naval Hospital Corps WAVES in January 1945, and the war ended in [August] 1945. Naval women weren't sent abroad until after the war was over," she said.
Among the women who achieved significant firsts, according to the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation Inc., were:
* Army nurse Lt. Magdalena Eckman of Pine Grove, Calif., who served on Bataan and Corregidor, the first servicewoman to be imprisoned by the Japanese.
* Seaman Elizabeth Karensky of Philadelphia, the first WAVE killed in the line of duty. She died in a Norfolk Naval Air Station explosion.
* Teeny Halfant of Galveston, Tex., the first female officer in the regular U.S. Army.
* Nurse Stephanie Markowitz, the first American woman to escape Nazi-occupied territory and live.
She survived a plane crash over Albania. Dodging German bombers, she walked for five days without sleep in knee-high snow and blizzards.
The exhibit catalogue quotes the book "Jews in America's Wars" as counting at least 35 Jewish American families who contributed six or more family members--brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers and daughters--to fight World War II.
Women in the Military, a Jewish Perspective, at the National Museum of American Jewish Military History, 1811 R St. NW., for an indefinite time. Open free to the public Monday-Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sundays and Memorial Day 1 to 5 p.m. Call 202-265-6280.
CAPTION: Fay Shulman, center, and friends in the summer of 1945 at the Club 400 on F Street NW, from the exhibit "Women in the Military, a Jewish Perspective."