Joining the Women's Army Corps (WAC) helped Frances Beeler achieve a dream and find a way to contribute during World War II.
Beeler, 91, of Geneva, joined five other northern Indiana women on an Honor Flight Northeast Indiana trip Wednesday who were scheduled to see military monuments, memorials and Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
They were among 69 World War II veterans scheduled to take the trip, including 36 who are older than age 90, a news release said. It's the largest group of women veterans to go locally, according to a news release.
They depart at about 8 a.m. from the Indiana Air National Guard 122nd Fighter Wing base adjacent to Fort Wayne International Airport. The public is invited to welcome the veterans home when they arrive at about 9 p.m. Wednesday at Fort Wayne International.
Among the women going, Beeler lives the closest to Fort Wayne – about 40 miles south. The others are from Marion, Mishawaka, Bremen and South Bend.
The soft-spoken Beeler enlisted Sept. 1, 1944, and served through the duration of the war, military records show. She was assigned to the WAC medical corps at William Beaumont Army Medical Center near Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, she said.
Beeler worked in surgery most of her time on duty. She and other nurses also took care of patients after surgery and kept rooms and medical equipment clean and sterile.
“We were on call 24/7,” she said. “They kept us really busy. If they did not have anything for us to do, they were inspecting us.”
The surgeries typically involved U.S. military personnel suffering from the effects of frozen feet, fingers or ears, she said. They also treated some patients from a nearby Air Force base and occasionally the spouses of soldiers.
Beeler enjoyed the experience.
“All my life, I wanted to be a nurse,” she said.
After graduating from high school, however, she started work at the General Electric factory in Decatur, which made items used in the U.S. war effort.
“They put the girls on the machinery the men were supposed to run because the men were all gone,” she said of life on the World War II homefront.
One day, a military recruiter came to the factory and told women workers that the military could really use help in the medical corps.
“I had lost my fiancee, my cousin and several classmates, so I thought I would go and do what I can,” Beeler said.
At that time, women had to wait to age 21 to enlist. She joined as soon as she was of age.
After her military service, she returned home to Geneva and jumped back into civilian life. As with so many U.S. veterans, she pushed her war memories to the back of her mind.
“I haven't really thought of it for years and years,” she said.
She later married Corwin Beeler, and they farmed and raised five children, she said. He died in January 1982.
She credits her military experience for helping her know what to do when their children became sick. Her military hospital work also helped prepare her for a job at the Swiss Village retirement community in Berne, where she worked for about 20 years as a geriatric technician.
She heard about Honor Flight through a couple of men from her church, who had gone on a trip last year. They enjoyed it so much they kept encouraging her to go, Beeler said. She applied to go last fall, but “chickened out.”
“I feel I didn't really help win the war,” she explained, saying combat veterans are the ones who deserve to go on Honor Flight trips.
Her church members kept encouraging her to go, however, so she decided to apply again. She was accompanied by her granddaughter, Jessica Beeler of Indianapolis.
The elder Beeler said she's always wanted to see Washington, D.C., and its monuments, but she's a little nervous about flying.
“I'll just be surprised and happy to see it all,” she said Tuesday. “I know it's going to be an emotional day.”