Thursday, October 11, 2018

Bea Arthur spent 30 months in the Marine Corps, where she was one of the first members of the Women’s Reserve and spent time as a truck driver.

After high school, she attended Blackstone College in Blackstone, Virginia, for a year, then returned to Cambridge to work for several months as a food analyst at Phillips Packing Company, where she tested products for mold and bacteria. Afterward, she moved to New York and worked various jobs, and volunteered in the civilian war effort as an air-raid warden.

In Feb 1943, a call went out to women across America: “Be a Marine . . . Free a Man to Fight.” The US Marine Corps had established the Women’s Reservists, making the Corps the last service branch to allow women into its ranks. Despite reservations by Corps Commandant General Thomas Holcomb, the Marine Corps began a program to put women in as many positions as possible, enabling male Marines to join combat units.

Arthur “heard last week that enlistments for women in the Marines were open, so decided the only thing to do was to join.”

While she hoped for an assignment in ground aviation, Arthur noted that she was “willing to get in now and do whatever is desired of me until such time as ground schools are organized.” She added, “As far as hobbies are concerned, I’ve dabbled in music and dramatics.”

As part of the enlistment process, Arthur underwent interviews that resulted in the production of “personality appraisal” sheets. One such analysis described her conversation as “Argumentative” and her attitude and manner as “Over aggressive.” In a handwritten note, the Marine interviewer remarked, “Officious--but probably a good worker--if she has her own way!”

She attended the first Women Reservists school at Hunter College in New York. She spent 1944 and 1945 at USMCAS (US Marine Corps Air Station) Cherry Point, North Carolina, where she worked as a driver and a dispatcher. Upon her discharge in September 1945, Arthur had reached the rank of Staff Sergeant.

More than 20,000 Women Reservists had earned the title of Marine by the end of World War II.

Official Military Personnel Files can be requested from the National Archives through the National Personnel Records Center at St. Louis. For more information on available records and how to request them, see the Museum’s research guide here. Arthur’s personnel file is part of a series called the PEP files: Persons of Exceptional Prominence. These are files of famous individuals and are being digitized by the National Archives. Digital files can be found on the National Archives website: .

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