98-year-old WWII WAC among those celebrated at YMCA Military Ball this weekend

Local veteran recounts World War II experience

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - With Veterans Day almost up on us - we remember those who served to protect our country. That includes World War II veterans - a group losing members to share their stories, with each year that passes.

Pearl Harbor is a day the nation will never forget. The historic attack on our country that started it all for Gwen Niemi.

“Right after the bombing, I knew I wanted to do something, and I didn’t want a production line job like Rosie the Riveter,” Niemi explained.

In the midst of World War II, she promptly went to enlist in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) and thought after her interview, she wouldn’t make it.

"They asked me why did you wear that hat? I was floored. I thought I looked pretty good. I had on an outfit and hat. I said because I thought it looked good with the rest of my outfit," she explained, "So I got on the train - went back to Pennsylvania and told my dad -- you don't have to worry about me, I goofed."

To her surprise, she got a call with orders to Iowa to be a training officer in 1942. “It was hard. Officer training was very hard because it seems they tried to squeeze three years of something into three months.” Thus beginning a very important four-year chapter of her life, “We were like a little town of our own.”

As part of Air WACs, she was one of the first 200 women to go to officer candidate school. She became a captain, and traveled around to inspect different detachments to see if women were doing jobs they liked and were capable of doing.

It was a trying time for the United States. She was there as the war was in progress and when it ended. Afterwards, she worked at a separation center interviewing men fresh out of service.

"Everybody wanted to go home. The men all wanted out, especially the ones who were overseas in combat. They came back and wanted out -- so now they didn't have much need for us women."

She’s kept every last memento, it’s evident this is a time of her life she cherishes.

“What I did is peanuts compared to some of the men that served in combat, so I don’t ever expect any more glory than they get. But I enjoy being part of it and knowing it’s in my past.”

Niemi said a woman’s role in the military was much different back then, but now at nearly 99 - she’s happy to see where it has gone.

"I'm very proud of it. I had a hard time accepting when they were taking women into combat because when I was in they didn't have that."

Niemi is among the veterans being honored at this weekend’s Community Military Ball put on by the YMCA. It begins at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 10 at the Tucson Convention Center.

All proceeds from the event go towards the Y’s programs to help military families.

You can view a schedule of the ball and get tickets here: https://tucsonymca.org/events/militaryball/

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