FORT SMITH, Ark. — Fort Smith’s Laurel Kidd is among a group of pioneering women who ushered in a new era for the Marine Corps during World War II.
Kidd, who turns 90 in September, was one of the first females to enlist in the Marine Corps during the war.
“I’ve always been interested in everything that’s going on,” Kidd said. “When I heard the Marines were allowing women to become Marines, it was my cup of tea.”
The Marine Corps began accepting females into the Women’s Reserve in February 1943. In a memoir penned this year, Kidd recalls the decision that swept her away from a clerical job in Indianapolis.
“When war was declared, my brother joined the Marines,” Kidd wrote. “Word came six months later that he had been killed on Guadalcanal. With that, I signed up with the Marines on May 26, 1944.”
During her service at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, Kidd was a recreation assistant and worked at the camp newspaper.
“My photograph dressed in whites entitled ‘Ain’t War Hell!’ appeared in a Marine Corps publication circulated worldwide,” Kidd wrote in her memoir.
Kidd’s husband of 13 years, Arthur, 93, a U.S. Army Signal Corps veteran, said “things were a lot different then.”
“They treated the women Marines as ladies, not as equals,” he said. “They weren’t in combat or anything like that.”
Women officially served in the Marine Corps during World War I, but were separated from service afterward. By the end of WWII, more than 20,000 women had served in the Marine Corps.
“While their predecessors did mainly clerical work, these Marines took on additional roles, including parachute riggers, mechanics, mapmakers and welders,” the Marine Corps website states.
Women were officially integrated into all U.S. armed forces in 1948.
Last week, the Kidds joined other veterans at Chaffee Crossing to support Fort Smith as the potential site of a future state veterans home.
“They’re just astronomical people,” said Robert Rivera with the Marine Corps League’s River Valley Detachment. “Laurel has been part of our Marine Corps detachment ever since it started. She’s the oldest Marine we have.”
In the 1940s, Laurel met a fellow serviceman, married and later had children. She earned an English degree in 1974. Five years later, she was hired as secretary of the Communications and Electronics Command, or CECOM, then later became a procurement specialist. She retired in 1996 at age 73.
It wasn’t until 1993 that she reconnected with Arthur Kidd, whom she met in 1949 when he was serving in the National Guard with her former husband. The pair became traveling companions.
“Many trips later, on Jan. 4, 2000, we were married at sea by the master of the Grand Princess,” she wrote.
Laurel Kidd has fostered a lifelong interest in the arts that includes writing and painting. She belongs to the Center for Art and Education in Van Buren and two writing groups.
“We both swim at Mercy Fitness Center on a regular basis,” Arthur Kidd said. “We go the Fort Smith Little Theatre and symphony. We just don’t have time to do it all.”