Saturday, March 7, 2009
SARAH FROST: A Tale of an Unlikely Veteran
Sarah Frost, Teacher of Geometry
and Life, Dublin High School, 1974
A TALE OF AN UNLIKELY VETERAN
Sarah was an average girl, one who grew up in the Great Depression and one who knew the value of hard work and a good education. Like many young women of her generation who were lucky enough to obtain a post secondary education, Sarah decided she wanted to teach. One of her first assignments found her in Pine Hall, North Carolina, a small community, not large enough to be called a town, and situated a good half hour or so north of Winston - Salem in those days of slower cars and dirt highways.
Returning from a trip back home to Monroe, Sarah was standing in the bus station on a Sunday afternoon in Winston-Salem. School was about to be out for Christmas holidays. A nervous voice came out of the loud speaker. The passengers paused. "All service personnel report to their bases immediately! The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor," the announcer quivered. Sarah and other stunned civilians were diverted to other buses while the soldiers and sailors boarded the first available buses back to their posts.
Following the dramatic attack on the United States, men across the country began signing up for volunteer service or selective service through the draft. The officials of the Stokes County draft board figured that teachers were good at taking names and putting them on lists, so Sarah and the other teachers were assigned to register the men of the county for the draft.
The young teacher had heard that a new organization was being formed to aid the war effort. The Marine Corps Women's Reserve was established in February 1943. These women were given hundreds of tasks to perform, serving as radio operators, cooks, truck drivers, map makers and hundreds more. By D-day, five of six enlisted personnel serving in the Marine Corps Headquarters were women. Two of three Marines manning major posts in the United States and Hawaii were female in the last years of the war.
It was time to serve her country Sarah decided. She traveled down the road to Camp Lejeune, a bustling military installation, which two years earlier had been nothing but a sandy forest of natural pines along the Atlantic Seaboard Railroad. The First Marine Division had come there two years prior to train for the eminent war.
The camp would be Sarah's home for six weeks. Though it looked like a college campus with beautiful buildings, the Marine post was specifically designed to train men and women to go to war, which meant that some would kill and some would be killed. Her fellow Marine reservists were an assortment of women from all walks of life. Sarah and the other women were subjected to a battery of tests. When they weren't testing and being taught in some facet of military science, they marched.
They marched to eat. They marched to classes. They even practiced marching just to learn how to march with no destination. They stopped marching when the drill instructor was too tired to watch the women march any more. Sarah was taught how to walk, talk, run, eat, sleep, drink, dress and think like a Marine. After boot camp, Sarah wanted an assignment somewhere at an air base. To get there, she first had to go to Cherry Point, just across the river. Much to Sarah's astonishment when she arrived at Cherry Point, she was assigned duty in the kitchen. Turkeys for Thanksgiving, turkeys for Christmas, and leftover turkeys for New Year's Day are still ingrained in Sarah's memory of her first real days in the Marine Corps. She did get New Year's Eve off to celebrate the coming of the year 1944, a year in which the war, both in Europe and Pacific, would soon turn in favor of the Allies.
Just a few days later, Sarah rode a troop train to Oxford, Ohio, where she began taking courses in the operation of radios, learning how to type and send messages in Morse code. Sarah trained alongside her counterparts, the WAVES of the United States Navy. She had hoped that her marching days were behind her, but on nearly every Saturday the Marine women joined the WAVES and practically every sailor and marine on an old athletic field for a weekly parade. The marching subsided after that, although Sarah does remember a blistering hot day when she marched in her wool uniform, a disastrous result because the military too frequently goes by the calendar and not the thermometer when assigning uniforms for the day.
On May 27, 1944, Sarah was promoted to corporal and assigned to the Radio Material School in Omaha, Nebraska. She learned how to put radios together, take them apart and fix them when they were broken. Sarah delighted in the fact that she had two friends who accompanied her through both Camp Lejeune and Oxford. One was an English teacher. Sarah taught math before she enlisted.
In October 1944, Sarah traveled across the country to report for duty in Santa Barbara, California. During her 14-month stay in the Golden State, Sarah earned a third stripe on her sleeves. She continued to repair radios at naval and coast guard stations, enjoying the latter the best because of the great food they served. Southern California is, and was then, a great place to visit. Sarah and her friends often hitch hiked, with absolutely no fear of harm, to Los Angeles and San Francisco for a weekend of entertainment.
Just a dozen days before Christmas, with their discharges in their hands, Sarah, her friends Avis and Ann, Avis' nephew and his dog piled into a '39 Plymouth set out for their homes along the route. They drove through glamorous Los Angeles, the frozen deserts of Arizona and the snowy plains of Nebraska. They slept in their cars and $3 a night dingy cabins, though they did spend one warm night at Ann's house in Nebraska.
As Avis and Sarah got closer to North Carolina, they began to notice snow on the ground. But Sarah couldn't make herself believe there was any chance of a snowball at her home in Monroe. There was snow in Asheville. Sarah's hopes of a white Christmas swelled. As Sarah and Ann pulled into the Austin home in Monroe, it was snowing. It snowed so much that Ann had to spend a couple of days with the Austins, a delay she minded very little with all of the southern holiday hospitality which was heaped upon her. Sarah said goodbye to the last of her trio as she began the last leg of her cross country trip back home to Boston. The girls were home. The war was over. All was good in Nebraska, Boston and especially in Monroe, North Carolina where this young school teacher turned Marine was home for Christmas.
Sarah taught school in Winston-Salem for 17 years. She married Bill and moved to Dublin. I was lucky enough to have been her student for two of the twenty-one years she taught math in Dublin. Sarah had a passion for geometry and geometric shapes. At Dublin High she was legendary for her assignments of geometric art. While we struggled to construct our 3-D stellated polyhedron stars, we would have sworn such an arduous task would only have come from a demanding Marine Corps sergeant. Little did we know that our teacher was actually a Marine sergeant in World War II three decades before.
Like most members of "the greatest generation" whose greatest feats came after they left the service, Sarah's greatest contribution to our country came not in radio repair rooms, but in the classrooms of Dublin High School, where this meek, gentle, kind and caring teacher shaped our young minds and taught us the theorems of life. So on this Veteran's Day, please join me in saluting Mrs. Sarah Austin Frost, the most unlikely Marine sergeant I ever knew. And for the rest of you men and women who have served our country in the Armed Forces, I thank you on behalf of a grateful nation for a job well done.
(Compiled from an interview of Sarah Frost by Mac Fowler for the Laurens County Historical Society)