By Cresonia Hsieh
It’s been nearly 75 years since Jane Turner Hansen heard on the radio about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, but the 95-year-old veteran still remembers with clarity that day in her college dormitory.
The events at Pearl Harbor are why she decided to enlist.
Hansen recalls stumbling out of her room and searching for someone – anyone – to talk to about the tragedy. But it would be two years before Hansen finally got the chance to join the military – which only came after her parents moved to New Orleans.
When Hansen told her parents she wanted to enlist, they were not pleased.
“Eisenhower said he couldn’t have won the war without us,” she said. “But there were civilians back home who said that it was just whores and lesbians who were joining the service. You know this kind of thing was difficult.”
Hansen’s father had been a high-ranking officer in the Navy. So he especially wasn’t pleased that his daughter wanted to enlist in the Army.
Soon, Hansen’s life transformed from studying at a luxurious sorority house in Virginia to sleeping in barracks at a basic training facility in Georgia.
“If you don’t think that was a cultural shock … ” she said, laughing.
After basic training, Hansen studied at a secretarial school in Texas before realizing that she hated secretarial studies. She eventually settled on meteorology.
It was there that she met her future husband, Sidney Hansen.
The two at first were “fond friends.” They kept in touch by letter when he was sent to the South Pacific, and she to the European Front.
In Europe, Hansen and nine other women from the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps attended upper-air school in London.
“We were a smart bunch of women, that’s for sure,” she said.
For about a year, the women made, recorded and evaluated data in Saint-Germain, France. They plotted data on maps and charts to do long-range forecasting.
Hansen said she loved her job, was treated well and never had to do kitchen duty.
“I had the best job in the Army,” she said.
The worst part about the job was that the 10 women were corporals. They replaced and did the same work as the men before them – who were master sergeants.
“It was a terrible thing, but we didn’t know it then,” she said.
Hansen recalled sneaking into the kitchen with some of the other women on the midnight shift and preparing onion sandwiches. (There apparently wasn’t anything else tastier.)
On weekends, the women and their dates went to a fancy hotel that the Army managed just for the WAACs. Hansen recalled a great chandelier, large windows and a three-piece ensemble there.
She also remembers attending parades to listen to the band send off Charles de Gaulle and the great party the officers threw for the women as thanks for their hard work.
She also recalls the lack of heat and food.
But the vast majority of Hansen’s memories of the military is fond.
“To be selected was a huge privilege,” she said.
After helping the war effort, Hansen returned to Wisconsin, where her family lived.
Sidney Hansen met her there and asked for her hand in marriage.
They returned to Buffalo, his hometown, and raised four children until his death nearly 20 years ago.
Now she lives alone in her cozy Getzville retirement apartment, where her home is filled with memories from World War II.
On the table sits a small statue she brought from Saint-Germain. A handmade painting of the French streets hangs on the wall. And there are several photos of her husband in uniform.
Among them is a framed black-and-white one of her and her “fond friend.”
They are sitting, young and crystallized in time, on the steps of the weather school, Jane smiling brightly as ever.
Jane Turner Hansen, 95
Hometown: Norfolk, Va.
Branch: Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps
War Zone: WWII; London and Saint-Germain
Years of Service: Sept. 1, 1943 – Nov. 15, 1945
Most prominent honors: European Theater Medal