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Celebrating a vet

EIGHTY-NINE-YEAR-OLD Mary Pomeroy Maser, who lives in Glen Ellen, was among the first women Marines when she enlisted in 1944. Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune

EIGHTY-NINE-YEAR-OLD Mary Pomeroy Maser, who lives in Glen Ellen, was among the first women Marines when she enlisted in 1944. Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune

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On her 20th birthday, Feb. 1, 1944 – when some of her peers were getting married or having babies – Mary Pomeroy Maser enlisted in the Marines.

Corp. Maser was among the first women Marines, as part of the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, which was established on Feb. 13, 1943. With the shortage of men to do jobs on the home front during World War II, women started enlisting in various military branches around 1942, including the WACs (Women’s Army Corps), the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) and the WASPs (Women’s Airforce Service Pilots).

Maser had worked in Chicago for a company that made Army war bonds, but the company closed shortly before her birthday. Maser recalls deciding to enlist, thinking how she had no obligations and that joining the military might be a good opportunity to try something new.

She trained at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina in a unit composed of both men and women, and they all received the same training. “We did the same thing as the boys, crawling under wire and climbing trees,” she said. Maser went on to work in a transportation field. “I had never really driven before, but I tried it in training and I liked it. Pretty soon I was driving buses and Jeeps all over the place.”

Now 89, Maser takes her time entering the living room at her house in Glen Ellen, where she has been living for the last year with her sister who takes care of her. She wears a white T-shirt her sister’s husband had made for her when she went to a women veterans appreciation ceremony last year. On the front is a picture of a beaming 20-something Maser wearing her dress uniform with her name, the years she served and the Marine motto: “Semper Fi.”

Every so often she flashes a coy smile. “I’m a strong girl, I grew up in the woods,” she says. Maser was the second oldest of 10 children and is quick to tell you that where she was born isn’t important because her family moved every two years. Her father was in the Army and her mother stayed home, caring for her children. Five of the Pomeroy children served in the military

Maser said she never experienced different treatment because she was a woman. “We were all a team and we all had jobs to do,” she explained. Being in the Marines, Maser said, she learned responsibility and discipline. “This is a time where you are able to take the opportunity to learn the basics and get a background of knowledge to serve you for the rest of your life,” she said.

Maser met her future husband, Rudy Maser, who was in the Navy while she was stationed in North Carolina. She laughs when she tells how she made him wait through a two-year engagement because she didn’t want to be a “war bride,” but rather get married when she was done serving.

For Maser, the low point in her service was when she contracted meningitis and was hospitalized for nearly three months. “They didn’t expect me to live, but I’m a strong girl and I fought it.” After her illness, Maser went back to work and says she “stumbled through life,” with difficulty remembering things. “The two years I was there (in the Marines) went by so fast. I really did enjoy it.”

Upon leaving the Marines in 1946, Maser got married and moved with her husband to his hometown in Lake Worth, Fla. The Masers adopted two boys in the 1950s, with Mary working odd jobs to help support the family and her husband working as a carpenter. Maser left the house she had lived in after 60 years to be closer to her family and to live with her sister Marjorie Everidge. She has two grandchildren, of whom she is very proud. She lights up when she talks about how smart they are and how they are attending college in Ohio and have so many opportunities in store for them.

Maser says she just recently started receiving equal benefits as men from the Veterans Affairs office, which she is thankful for.

“They (the military) are really starting to pay attention to women and do things for them that they didn’t do before.” She says she is proud of her service and encourages more women to join the military. “Do it,” she says, bluntly. “That’s an opportunity you can’t lose and a privilege and necessity for all.”