Gillette museum exhibit focuses on Wyoming women during WWII - InfoNews

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Gillette museum exhibit focuses on Wyoming women during WWII

In this May 21, 2020 photo, Linda Bleeker, of Sioux Falls, S.D., is seen in the Rockpile Museum in Gillette, Wyo., looking at an exhibit on local women who served during World War II. More than 30 women from the Campbell County area served in all branches of the military stationed at home and abroad. Their roles ranged from being supply clerks and pharmacist mates to yeoman and flight nurses. (Mike Moore/Gillette News Record via AP)
June 08, 2020 - 7:41 AM

GILLETTE, Wyo. - The Rockpile Museum’s women serving in World War II exhibit is more than a glimpse back to a time when the “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” were popular on the radio as American soldiers were fighting for democracy across the globe.

“We are now in this war. We are in it all the way,” states an exhibit poster from the era. “Every single man, woman and child is a partner in the most tremendous undertaking of our American history. We must share together the bad news and the good news, the defeats and the victories — the changing fortunes of war.”

While many men were off fighting the Nazis, fascist Italy and the Japanese, women on the home front were changing the fortunes of World War II by playing pivotal roles. More than 30 women from the Campbell County area served in all branches of the military stationed at home and abroad. Their roles ranged from being supply clerks and pharmacist mates to yeoman and flight nurses.

Pauline “Pat” Fitch was one of them, the Gillette News Record reports.

Fitch grew up in Douglas before moving to Gillette, where she ranched. She joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps during World War II before transferring to the Women’s Army Corps. Fitch was chosen to attend the Women’s Army Corps officers candidate school and received her commission in June 1943.

Months later in December 1943, Fitch attempted to recruit her husband’s aunt, Vivian Sutherland Edwards.

“How about joining the WAC after Christmas?” Fitch asked her in a letter. “We are desperately in need of them. This field has been trying to get a company of WAC’s since July, but there just aren’t any to be had. The manpower shortage is terrible. You’d like the WAC too, I know.”

Fitch would go on to serve as a member of the Women’s Army Corps in Brownsville, Texas, before moving to the 2520th Army Air Force Base Unit in Frederick, Oklahoma. Fitch died in Jordan, Montana, in 2003.

Others who served their country during the war include Mary Gayl Gibson, the first local woman to enlist in the Women’s Reserve of the U.S. Coast Guard, and Rachel Hemenway, who was reportedly the first war nurse from Campbell County.

They are part of the “She Served Too: Campbell County Women in World War II” exhibit, which features the role local women played in World War II.

“The research takes months typically,” Rockpile Museum registrar Angela Beenken said about the display. “The posters and uniforms for this exhibit directly connect to the branches of service that Campbell County women served in, including the Women’s Army Corps, Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, Marine Corps Women’s Reserve and the Women’s Reserve of the Coast Guard.”

The idea to focus on Campbell County women who served in World War II came from last year’s celebration of the 150th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the Cowboy State.

“This is an excellent opportunity to showcase the incredible roles women served during that time,” Beenken said.

Rockpile visitors also will have an opportunity to see a travelling display from the National WASP WWII Museum of Sweetwater, Texas. Only 1,830 women pilots ages 18-35 with a private or commercial pilot’s license and more than 500 hours of cockpit time joined the WASP from fall 1942-44.

They got their training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, and those who graduated received their wings and were deployed to bases all over the United States.

The “She Served Too” exhibit will continue through the end of the year while the WASP display runs through June 30. It will then return to the National WASP WWII Museum in Texas.

In addition to the World War II displays, the Rockpile Museum also has a Medal of Honor exhibit that features Wyoming recipients who earned their medals during the Native American campaigns of the 19th century.

It will be on display through August.

The museum is open under the first phase of its re-opening plan as the county and Wyoming emerge from COVID-19 restrictions. It includes visitors strictly adhering to social distancing guidelines like being at least 6 feet apart and no more than 10 people are allowed in each exhibit room. People also need to use hand sanitizer when they come in and sign a sheet for coronavirus contact tracing purposes. People who are medically vulnerable or are sick are encouraged not to visit.

News from © The Associated Press, 2020
The Associated Press

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