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70 years ago, they heard the call to serve

Members of the former American Legion Post 243 from left: Lorrie Landry (a Korean War veteran) and World War II veterans Stella Nall and Marie Muzzioli.John Blanding/Globe Staff

When Lynn celebrates Veterans Day on Tuesday, the Lillian M. Jennings American Legion Post 243 — one of the state’s only posts for women — won’t be part of the pomp and pageantry.

The post, established just after the end of World War II, was forced to disband this year after its ranks fell below the 15 members required by the American Legion.

There are now only five members left of a post with a legacy of donating to charities, marching in parades, and honoring its country.

“Just about all of our members were from the Second World War,” said Lorrie Landry, 82, a Korean War veteran who joined the post about nine years ago. “They were either in their high 80s or early 90s. Most of them have passed on.”


The closing of the post is a painful reminder of the rapidly vanishing population of World War II women veterans.

Two who answered the call to serve — Augie Chase, 92, of Natick, and Frances Wyckoff, 93, of Quincy — continue to share their wartime memories. They are among the 26,151 women veterans age 85 and older in the United States today, including 2,142 in Massachusetts, according to the US Veterans Administration. They laid the foundation for the 203,000 women currently serving, who make up nearly 15 percent of the military, according to the Department of Defense.

A photo of Lorrie Landry in 1951, after she completed the Women's Army Corps Leaders' Course.John Blanding/Globe Staff

These days, women serve on aircraft carriers and military bases around the world. Some are training to be leaders of the future.

Elizabeth LoChiatto, 21, of Harvard, is enrolled in the Army ROTC program at Belmont University in Nashville. A senior majoring in nursing, she juggles courses and labs with practicing land navigation, marksmanship, and other drills.

“I always had some sort of interest in the military,” said LoChiatto, noting that her grandfather was a Marine. “But I was sort of afraid of what it entailed. . . . I did always think it would be an honorable thing to do.”


LoChiatto should learn this month if she will be assigned to active duty or a reserve unit after graduation. “The Army is downsizing,” said LoChiatto, who has applied for active duty. “They still want us, but they just might not need us for active duty.”

More than 70 years ago, as war raged in Europe and the South Pacific, an estimated 400,000 American women served in World War II, according to the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation in Washington.

They wore the crisp uniforms of the Army’s Women Air Corps, or the Navy WAVES — Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service — and other auxiliary service branches.

They fixed airplanes, broke codes, managed offices, and other tasks. Some had brothers or sisters already serving. Others blazed a new path for their family.

“I was all for going into the war,” said Chase, who left a job in a nylon factory in her native South Carolina to join the WAVES. “All you’d hear on the radio was that ‘the women are needed.’ And the women went.”

Chase, then 20, was assigned to the Memphis Naval Air Base. “I could match a hammer to a nail,” she said with a slight laugh. “So they sent me to an air base.”

She worked on the assembly and repair of airplanes, rising from the rank of seaman to aviation machinist 3d class. She also helped to train French pilots in Memphis.


“It was scary. It was sad,” Chase recalled, her voice still laced with a southern drawl. “The PA system would alert us with any big news.”

Chase also formed lasting bonds with women from Alabama, Idaho, West Virginia, and other states. “We were closer than many families, really. “These were my best buddies,” she said, looking at a black-and-white photo of six women eating watermelon at a picnic on the banks of the Mississippi. “We had a lot of fun. We couldn’t go around all the time with long faces.”

Chase is the only one of the group still living.

“I do think of them a lot,” Chase said softly. “My service means a lot to me. I think it does to most women who served.”

Wyckoff recalled “patriotism floating around” when she left a retail job in Boston to join the WAVES. “I wanted to relieve the sailors, so they could get on a ship and go out to sea,” she said.

After training in Oklahoma, Wyckoff was assigned to be a code breaker at Navy headquarters in Washington. “I think they put me there because I was quiet and I liked puzzles,” she said with a smile. “What we did was to be kept top secret. We couldn’t tell our families.”

As a civilian, Wyckoff joined WAVES National, a veterans group, and helped to establish a Boston chapter called Old Ironsides. The group would regularly meet for lunches, but had to disband in recent years due to declining numbers, Wyckoff said.


“Some of us weren’t well enough to make the meetings anymore,” said Wyckoff, a strong woman with rose-colored cheeks. “But when we did get together, for a meeting or to go to a convention, it was great. You felt as though they were your friends, even if you didn’t know them. They’d greet you with ‘Hello, sister.’ ”

The Jennings post in Lynn kept women veterans connected long after the war. And for years, the post attracted former WAVES and women like Landry, who served in later conflicts.

But the group could not attract many younger veterans.

“Most posts have bars, rooms where you can shoot pool or play Ping-Pong,” said Landry, an Army veteran who served in a special services unit as a singer during the Korean conflict. “We weren’t that kind of post. We had a room in [a museum] we could meet in. We didn’t have those other kinds of luxuries.”

But the post and its members leave a rich legacy of military service.

“Serving in the WAVES changed my whole life,” said Stella Nall, 91, of Danvers, who served in the WAVES as a code breaker in Washington during World War II. “What I was doing was highly secretive, and I was doing my part for the war.”

Marie Muzzioli, 90, of Nahant, joined the WAVES and was assigned to work as a storekeeper at an air base in Alameda, Calif. “I had a job near my house making Army uniforms,” said Muzzioli, who grew up in Worcester. “I came home one day and told my mother, ‘I’m sick and tired of this job. I’m going to join the Navy.’ ”


With a focus on charity, the Jennings post allowed members to continue lives of service.

“We had fund-raisers, flea markets,” said Muzzioli, a past commander and chaplain of the post. “We used to go up to the Soldiers’ Home [in Chelsea] and bring some gifts to them at Christmas.”

“If we had 10 or 20 people at meetings we could have continued,” said Nall. “But what could the three of us do? The Lillian Jennings Post is gone.”

Kathy McCabe can be reached at katherine.mccabe@ globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKMcCabe.