The Marine Corps Women’s Reserve was a brand new innovation in 1943. It was so new that it wasn’t on Rosa Anne Jacques radar screen, even though she wanted to do her part to advance the Allied cause in World War II. Rosa, a young Detroiter, was influenced in part by her dad, who was the chief engineer on a freshwater freighter tasked with moving wartime raw materials from Great Lakes sources to Great Lakes factories. Her brother, Charles, had joined the Navy and was serving in the Pacific. Rosa wanted to have a role beyond working in the audit department at Sears, but what? Mindful of the proud maritime experiences of her dad and brother, she decided to join the Navy…
She couldn’t keep the news to herself. Rosa told her best friend, Alice Brittle – who lived three doors down in their Gratiot & Outer Drive neighborhood – of her plan. “Don’t do that, Rosa,” her like-minded friend replied. “I’m going the join the Women’s Marine Corp. You should, too!” And so they did….
In the company of eight other metro Detroit women, Rosa and Alice boarded a train for New York City, where they began a 6-week preliminary military training program at Hunter College. They were joined by 40 other women recruits from around the country. At Hunter, all wore civilian clothes, for Marine uniforms for women hadn’t yet been created.
With their orientation at Hunter concluded, they took the train to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina: the Corp’s largest East Coast training base. Upon their arrival at the base, they marched through the front gate…and the soldiers at Lejeune couldn’t believe their eyes! Like most Americans, they had never seen Lady Marines before.
Rosa’s first assignment was to the Quartermaster (supply) School. Like her 50 companions, she held the rank of private. In Quartermaster School, she progressed quickly, earning the rank of corporal. At the same time, she was encouraged by her commanding officer to apply for officer’s training. Rosa did so, earning her second lieutenant’s bar in 1944. She remembers with great pride being presented with her officer’s commission (papers) by FDR’s Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox. She also remembers with clarity and an undiminished thrill the personal visit that President Roosevelt made to Camp Lejeune in person in December of 1944.
2nd Lt. Jacques became the camp’s Assistant Disbursing Officer, with responsibility for all bill paying and payroll processing. Her work in that capacity was very important and very visible, for the camp had over 600 civilian employees!
She mustered out of the Corps in April of 1945 and married her Detroit sweetheart, returning Army Staff Sergeant and Pacific veteran Bill Cromie. They made their home in Detroit and had 3 children: Bill, Michael & Kathy.
What does Mrs. Cromie remember most about her experiences as a Marine? Rosa recalls a feeling very common to the women who served in the military in World War II. “I felt enormously proud,” she advises, “knowing that what I was doing in the Corps helped free our men to do the fighting.” Indeed, by the time the war ended, fully 85% of the Marines assigned to Headquarters were women. Today, nearly 6% of all U.S. Marines around the globe are women.
While the modest Mrs. Cromie would never suggest it, it’s fair to say that she and all of the Lady Marines of the Second World War helped changed the face of the world’s greatest fighting force.