Editor's note: Today is the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, a good time to remember the sacrifice of men and women during WWII. The story of one such woman follows. --ALG
“I thought I had ruined my life.” Aileen Kilgore Henderson said, recalling a time during basic training when she sat on her bunk and cried. “How discouraged I was at the beginning. Everything I had ever known had changed, and I left my hopes and dreams of writing behind.”
As long as she could remember, Aileen had always wanted to write. In high school, after receiving an A on a story assignment, her teacher wrote Aileen asking if she’d ever given thought to being a writer. Living during the Great Depression left little time to follow dreams and plenty of time to pick cotton, velvet beans, potatoes and anything else they grew—she had to earn a living. After graduating, Aileen worked at a dime store for several years before joining the WAC (Women’s Army Corps) in 1944.
Following basic training, Aileen arrived at Ellington Field near, Houston, Texas, where she, along with five other women trained and worked as airplane engine mechanics. “One day, an engine was being tested and fell off the plane. The men said the WAC did it, but when the worksheet was checked, none of the women had touched it.” Later, their sergeant congratulated the six WACs for a job well done. It wasn’t only Aileen’s sergeant who witnessed the women’s dedication, hard work, and the sacrifices they’d made during World War II, but General Douglas MacArthur also must have had the same sentiment when he said WACs are “my best soldiers.”
Although Aileen continued to push her dreams aside during war, she wrote her thoughts in her diary and frequently sent letters to her family. In 2001, her letters were compiled into a book called Stateside Soldier and published by the University of South Carolina Press. Here’s an excerpt from her diary on June 7, 1944.
Dear Mama and Daddy:
“D” Day and here I am stuck at Ellington Field. I haven’t heard any real news from newspaper or radio. At chapel last night the entire hour was dedicated to prayers and hymns for everyone involved…. At 4:45 every afternoon Ellington’s band marches past our barracks to the flagpole for Retreat. If we’re outside, maybe on the way to the mess hall, we have to pause and stand Retreat. But if we’re inside we don’t. Yesterday I was in Madeline’s hospital room when we heard the bugle. In honor of D Day we stood Retreat by ourselves. Many Houston stores closed all day.
Aileen thought she’d ruined her life when she joined the WAC. Instead, the war broadened her outlook of the world, what it had to offer, and what she could accomplish. On December 7, 1945, a chapter of Corporal Aileen Kilgore Henderson’s life closed with the end of the war, but a new chapter soon began. The dreams she’d pushed aside for many years took flight thanks to the GI Bill, and she eventually earned a master’s degree in Education from the University of Alabama.
“God brought me back to writing and successfully winning awards,” she said. “My first book was published when I was 74 years old.” Now a multi-published author, Aileen has received literary awards including the Milkweed Prize for Children’s Literature, the Alabama Library Association Awards, and the New York Public Library Best Book for Teenagers Award. “Writing teaches you to never give up—like your dreams, to keep trying.”
Tanya Eavenson enjoys spending time with her husband, and their three children. Her favorite pastime is grabbing a cup of coffee, eating chocolate, and reading a good book. Tanya is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Word Weavers International, and writes for Christ to the World Ministries. You can connect with Tanya at her website http://www.tanyaeavenson.com/.