November 8, 2004: Headlines: COS - Belize: Older Volunteers: Marines: Patriot Ledger: At age 65, after her four children were grown, former Marine Evelyn Norton joined the Peace Corps and lived in Belize from 1985 to 1987

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Belize: Peace Corps Belize : The Peace Corps in Belize: November 8, 2004: Headlines: COS - Belize: Older Volunteers: Marines: Patriot Ledger: At age 65, after her four children were grown, former Marine Evelyn Norton joined the Peace Corps and lived in Belize from 1985 to 1987

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At age 65, after her four children were grown, former Marine Evelyn Norton joined the Peace Corps and lived in Belize from 1985 to 1987

At age 65, after her four children were grown, former Marine Evelyn Norton joined the Peace Corps and lived in Belize from 1985 to 1987

At age 65, after her four children were grown, former Marine Evelyn Norton joined the Peace Corps and lived in Belize from 1985 to 1987

A GOOD AGE; Breaking the gender barrier; Weymouth woman served in WWII

Nov 8, 2004

Patriot Ledger Quincy, Ma

by Sue Scheible

Sue Scheible

At first glance, you wouldn't guess that Evelyn Norton was once a U.S. Marine. She's short - 4 feet 10 and three-quarters inches - and vivacious with a carefree smile. But 60 years ago, she was among the first women to serve in the Marines in World War II. "I went off to boot camp at Camp Lejeune (North Carolina) and our male DIs (drill instructors) were as tough on us as they were on the men, I'm telling you," said Norton, now 83 and living in Weymouth. Once she didn't hear the marching orders and kept going straight while the rest of her unit did an abrupt about-face. "I realized I was heading in the wrong direction alone but didn't dare stop without orders," she recalled.

"And then then the DI shouted, 'I said, 'TO THE REAR MARCH!' and I started crying. I turned around and he had his hands on his hips and what an ugly lip!"

Spend a few minutes with Norton and you see some of the other qualities that turned her into a spiffy Marine in a forest green uniform. She served for two years, 1944-1946, at the former base in El Toro, Calif. She's always had an adventurous side and strong sense of patriotism and service. At age 65, after her four children were grown, she joined the Peace Corps and lived in Belize from 1985 to 1987. She has also traveled to China and the Galapagos Islands, delivers meals on wheels to homebound elders and volunteers at a veterans hospital.

In April 1944, Evelyn Johnson was 23, a business school graduate and bank employee living at home in Minnesota. The family learned her brother in the Army would be part of the Normandy invasion. "I decided I'd go in and do my part, too," she said. "I always had a good thought about the Marines, so I joined up. My mother didn't interfere." To pass the physical, she stood on tip toes to reach the 5-foot minimum height requirement.

Veterans Day on Thursday is a fitting time to remember women like Norton who have served our country. In her new book, "Our Mothers' War: American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II," Emily Yellin describes the climate in February 1943 when the Marines first admitted women. The Marines were the only military branch to train male and female enlistees and officers in the same location: Camp Lejeune, N.C. The women were allowed to fill 200 job categories but were not sent overseas nor allowed to use their combat skills outside training. Yellin writes: "Perhaps because of the acclaimed macho image of the Marines, women who joined the branch came in for some particularly blatant ridicule.

The male Marines were some of the biggest offenders and invented a less than affectionate acronym for the women: BAMs, for Big-A** Marines." (The women came back with HAMs for the men: Half-A-Marine.) Marine Commandant Thomas Holcomb issued a pointed directive to all male officers saying such disrespectful conduct by the men indicated a laxity in discipline and would not be tolerated.

Norton recalled just one episode: She had learned to play the trumpet in high school and was allowed to play in the band and also play the call to quarters at night and reveille in the morning. Then orders came down from the base commander that "the woman" could not also touch the flag at the ceremonies as the men did. "We all were so hurt," she said. By the end of the war, nearly 20,000 women had served in the Marines and the men had begun to accept them. (However, the Marines never opened its ranks to black women in that war.)

Norton found the best sort of acceptance: she met her husband, William Norton, in the Marines at El Toro and soon wrote a 'Dear John letter' to the boy back home. She and Norton married in 1946, after they both were discharged, she as a corporal.

They settled in Dorchester, his home town, and had four children ages 11 to 5 when he was electrocuted on the job in 1957. He worked as an electrician and had been sent to Pennsylvania during a severe power outage there. A downed live wire came in contact with the top of his crew's truck and he was killed when he touched the truck.

It was a terrible blow to a "really good marriage" and Norton said that their four children - Michael, Kathleen, William and Virginia - are what kept her going. She found a job at a bank in Boston and then worked for the U.S. Postal Service in Boston for 29 years, becoming a supervisor in the inspection department.

She still sees one of her friends from the Marines once a year in upstate New York and is active in the Women Marines Association. Every month, she and two other women veterans, Mary Moran of Hingham and Harriet Nimacola of Newton, go to the VA Hospital in Bedford to visit patients on the Alzheimer's unit. Both her sons served in the Marine Corps and both daughters are teachers. (Virginia married former U.S. Rep. Brian Donnelly, D-Mass. They live on the Cape where she teaches school.)

Norton is one of many remarkable women who have served this nation and paved the way for others. Besides being one of the first group of women Marines, she was a bank teller when those jobs mostly went to men. Widowed at a young age, she raised four children alone. She went back to work before women were in the workforce and rose to a supervisory position. And when she retired, she pointed her compass to the future, joined the Peace Corps, and now serves her community at home.

"If there is something you are interested in, there's no reason not to sign up and do it," she said. "You have to make your own life interesting. I have always felt there was nothing I couldn't do if I wanted to do it."

Yellin's book, "Our Mothers' War" is published by the Free Press for $26. It's a wonderful read with fascinating research, and I found it inspiring to read about these early pioneers.

Reporter Sue Scheible can be reached at 617-786-7044, by mail at The Patriot Ledger, Box 699159, Quincy, MA 02269-9159 or E-mail at

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Story Source: Patriot Ledger

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Belize; Older Volunteers; Marines



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