Feb. 20, 2007; Submitted on: 03/02/2007 02:59:09 PM ; Story ID#: 20073214599
By Lance Cpl. Frances L. Goch, MCAS Miramar
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. (Feb. 20, 2007) -- During the past 90 years, America has elected 16 presidents, endured two wars and numerous conflicts and explored space.
And Marie Proulx has been there along the way—a living part of history and woman Marine veteran.
From the moment Proulx starts talking, she gives the feeling of visiting a favorite grandmother, but Proulx never had children and a man never captured her heart. The Marine Corps did.
In Spokane, Wash., on June 13, 1917 during President Woodrow Wilson’s second term, this daughter of a railroad worker and the oldest of five children was born.
Her family moved twice before finally making their home in St. Paul, Minn. where Proulx earned a degree in business administration at the College of St. Catherine in 1939, the same year that Hitler invaded Poland, starting World War II.
Proulx went to work in the accounts payable department at the Golden Rule department store immediately after graduation.
In 1941 the Army brought women into their ranks. More than 150,000 women joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps throughout WWII and on December 7, 1941 Japan attacked Pearl Harbor marking America’s entry into the war. But Proulx was waiting for something special before she would join the fight.
“My peers would say, ‘why don’t you join the WAACs?” said Proulx. “And just to get them off my back I said, ‘I will once the Marine Corps accepts women.”
In February 1943 The Marine Corps Women's Reserve was established and on August 16, 26-year-old Proulx reported to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. for duty.
Proulx completed training, which consisted of drill, customs and courtesies, Marine Corps history and the gas chamber. The women didn’t qualify on the rifle range, go on hikes with packs or even have to pass a physical fitness test to graduate from basic training. After all they were freeing a man to fight not fighting the war them selves.
She then went to her military occupational specialty school at Georgia State College for Women where she specialized in store keeping.
After completing her schooling, she was assigned to Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, Calif.
“We lived in squad bays that held 175 women and we weren’t ever allowed to wear civilian attire or have it in our foot lockers,” said the soft-spoken Minnesotan.
But the lack of wardrobe selection didn’t stop Proulx and her three friends Ann Shafer, Eleanor Prudenzo and Norma Frick, from exploring surrounding areas on their liberty.
As the ladies made what would be their last rounds of Hollywood and Los Angeles, Japan gave their official surrender and WWII came to an end.
After being discharged, Proulx worked for the Veterans Administration in Minneapolis. After returning as an inactive reserve, Congress passed the Women's Armed Services Integration Act in 1948 and opened the door for women to become a permanent part of the Corps. She was invited to enlist as an active-duty Marine.
On Valentine’s Day 1949, 15- enlisted women and four-female officers transferred to Parris Island to open recruit training to females.
During her four years at the recruit depot, war broke out in Korea and Proulx worked her way from a junior non-commissioned officer through the ranks to become the most senior enlisted woman at the depot.
In 1952, she transferred to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. Although she was only a technical sergeant, the same as today’s staff sergent, Proulx held the first sergeant billet of Women Marine Company, which made her responsible for every female Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton.
She later got orders to Camp Lejeune, N.C. to attend Leadership School, but while checking out, her doctor noticed that she walked with a limp and insisted she have it examined. After promising to come back and get it checked out, her doctor released her.
“When I returned I did go back to the doctor and I said ‘Here I am!’” said Proulx.
X-rays confirmed the doctor’s suspicions. 37-year-old Proulx had an arthritic hip. The joint had sealed and the best chance for her to stay in the Corps was to go through with an experimental hip replacement procedure.
“The Marine Corps is my life blood. I wanted to stay in so badly I didn’t care what they did,” she added.
Although the procedure went successfully, Proulx was medically discharged from the military Dec. 19, 1954. She has received three more hip replacements since.
Proulx continued to work for the Corps as an administrative clerk at Headquarters Marine Corps in Virginia before returning to California in 1956 as Elvis Presley topped the charts, and Sputnik orbited the earth.
Since then she has enjoyed the southern California weather. She spent her time as treasurer for several organizations but one in particular stands out for her — The Women Marines Association also known as WMA.
Proulx was selected in 1972 to serve as the national treasurer for WMA. She came home to organize Southern California’s WMA chapter. She served as the chapter’s president for a short time and in 1984, she shifted back to her duties as treasurer and membership chairman.
Thirty-five years later, she still serves as the chapter’s treasurer and membership chair. She has devoted more than 64 years to the Corps and has no plans of stopping anytime soon.