With the current generation of conflicts our nation is in, displays of courage from both genders can be seen in our Armed Forces. What many people may not know is that women wore the uniform during many of the nation’s conflicts. Dolores Zenz wore the uniform during World War II and shares her story.
Dolores went into the service on Dec. 7, 1943, “Pearl Harbor Day. Women weren’t drafted at that time.”
“I was with JAG, I was a court reporter.” Having worked as a secretary for an attorney, Zenz said she joined for a couple of reasons. One was that she wanted a change. “I was told that if you joined they had you do something completely different than what you had been doing. I thought ‘great, I will get rid of the typewriter,’ and what did they do, put me right behind one.”
Originally from Mt. Hope, Zenz said that another reason she served was her family’s military heritage. Her father had served and took the duty of defending the country very seriously. “One reason I enlisted was we were having dinner one day and there was talk about a fella who’s parents kept him out of service. My dad said ‘if I had a son and he wouldn’t go into the service, I would shoot him in the head.’ I thought, ‘well I should get out of here then,” Dolores quipped, adding her parents were proud of when she enlisted. “A lot of us in that generation, felt a call to serve our country, that’s why we enlisted.
Zenz was sent to Daytona Beach, Fla., for her basic training. Because of the commitment of the war effort, the uniforms and boots for Dolores’ unit were delayed for weeks. “We left in December in a blizzard here and they didn’t have any uniforms there. I had on a wool suit, and winter clothes. We got there, and it was warm, and we had to wear those clothes.” She added that meant a wide variety of footwear since there were no boots. “I looked down during march and drill, and there were a lot of fuzzy bedroom slippers because you could not march in high heels.”
At basic during World War II, the women trained much like the men did. “We had drill, gas mask training, classes in military things. Basic is rough.” Basic was different for men and women in one way - they never handled weapons. “I could have gone if called to,” Zenz said of going into combat.
From basic, Zenz was transferred to Hillfield, Utah, where she worked on various court cases during the war. While one may not picture legal briefs going hand and hand with war, Zenz recalls the jobs she handled, including court marshal proceedings for those who did not serve their country to their fullest.
“There are three types of court martial. General court martial is for treason, fraternization with the enemy, murder, grand larceny - really serious crimes.” Zenz said that in those cases, she had to take testimony verbatim and send the transcript to the office of the president for final review. A general court martial could result in 20 years at Ft. Levenworth.
Then there were special court martial cases, which could result in a year of confinement, as well as summary court martial, which resulted in a dishonorable discharge.
Zenz would also handle civil-military matters. “Somebody would sue the government, we would handle the case - just a typical law office.”
Zenz recalled the wide variety of cases that would come across her desk. “They had a cutting. One person had a knife and when the judge asked why she was carrying it, she responded ‘I need something to clean my fingernails.”
Zenz said the more memorable cases involved fraternization with the enemy. One case she recalled was an American G.I. doing favors for a German POW that was in the stockade. “He mailed letters for him, and did other things for him. That Nazi stood up and ranted and raved about how Germany would win the war because Americans were so stupid , and how easy it was to him to con this G.I. into doing things for him.”
The military court system was buzzing during war time. “There were days I would take a dozen special court martial cases a day,” Zenz recalled, noting that in those cases, she could summarize the cases.
As for one of those civil-military cases, she recalled that a pilot had brought down a plane outside Hillfield. “The pilot brought the plane down in a field outside of town so as not to injure anyone. The pilot died, and here was this farmer who came in wanting to sue because the people that came to look at the crash had come onto his property.”
After the war ended, Zenz was held back to help with the transition of the Army Air Corp, which was converted into the modern Air Force.
Initially, Zenz said she had one regret of her time in the service. Originally while stationed in Utah, Zenz was scheduled to go to New Guinea. “I would have been ready to go if I had been called to go, but my orders had been changed and I had nothing I could do about that. I always regretted that I didn’t go.” That changed years later when her family traveled to Australia, off the coast of New Guinea. “Holy buckets, it was hot and I didn’t regret going there any more.”
Zenz returned to Bloomington, where her parents had moved, got married, and raised a family with three children, who served during Vietnam. Zenz recalled that she never planned on staying that long. “My mother said she would fix up a room, and I told her you don’t need to fix up a room for me here. I had been in Salt Lake City and San Francisco and didn’t think I would stay here long.”
Over the years, Zenz has said she has been proud of her time. A member of the American Legion, “I am proud that I served my country, you know that you have done your job. I didn’t go into combat, but I am proud of what I did.”
Zenz also is proud of the current generation of military, including now seeing women serving on the front lines. “Women can go into combat,” she said.