Gardens resident recalls memories of service

Sitting in a wheelchair in her room at The Gardens, 92-year-old Jane Rickert leafs through page after page of pictures, memorabilia and newspaper clippings she had collected over the years. She then wheels herself over to the closet where she has kept the military uniform she wore more than 70 years ago. She pulls it out, explaining what the various patches on the uniform stand for.

“Can you believe I kept all this stuff for so many years?” she asks through a smile that beams with pride as she remembers that 21-year-old kid she used to be who decided to join the military during World War II. “It was a different time back then.”

The year was 1943. As the war raged across the globe, Rickert was working at the Wapakoneta Daily News as a society editor writing about everything from obituaries to local card games. While she was there, she remembers recruiters relentlessly trying to get people to sign up for the war effort. Eventually she decided it was time to do her part.

On her 21st birthday, Rickert signed up for the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) and was sent to Daytona Bach, Fla., for basic training. During her time there, she can recall seeing the Atlantic Ocean swarming with the enemy.

“The ocean was filled with German ships around the area where we were,” Rickert said. “It was rather frightening, but we had to learn to live in that kind of climate.”

After basic training, Rickert was sent to Camp Edwards, Mass. to replace a soldier who was shipped overseas. Since she had newspaper experience, Rickert was assigned to write for the camp newspaper that was published once a week. After a year, she asked to be transferred.

“I did not want to spend another winter in New England,” she said.

Rickert then went to cryptographic school in Ft. Monmouth, N.J. where she learned to receive and type coded messages. 

Once she left New Jersey, Rickert went to Ft. Oglethorpe, Ga. for overseas training. She then went to California where she was put on a ship with 5,000 other troops.

Rickert said she originally thought they were being shipped to Alaska because they were told to pack heavy clothes before arriving in California. In reality, Rickert’s destination was quite the opposite — she was going to the war-torn South Pacific. 

Of the entire 5,000 troops on the ship, Rickert was just one of 100 women who made the 23-day journey to the South Pacific.

Her first stop was New Guinea where she stayed for six months. Then it was on to the Philippines where she would stay until the war was over.

Rickert’s job was an important one — receiving and decoding messages from Allied Forces across the South Pacific. The job was rewarding, she said, but the hours she worked and the climate of the South Pacific proved to be extremely difficult to handle.

‘It was very rough,” she said. “We worked around the clock and would change shifts every week. Some days we worked 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., other days we worked 4 p.m. to midnight or midnight to 8 a.m. We had to sleep in tents on cots with mosquito netting over us. 

“We were working hard but we were tired.”

Rickert’s hardships not only dealt with long hours and a grueling climate, but also due to the fact that she was a woman.

The women who served in the WAACs were given only one pair of pants, and if they wanted extra, they had to find a man who was around their size.

“The men could get any number of trousers but we couldn’t get any,” she said. “We made some flannel pajamas into shorts and other things like that in order to survive. Other than that we had to find a man that was out size and ask him if we could have a pair of his trousers.

“That was disgusting to me.”

Rickert said she and the other women also never received a raise in pay or status while they served.

“Whether the men got raises, I don’t know, because we weren’t allowed to associate socially with male officers,” she said. 

When the war ended in 1945, Rickert came back to Wapakoneta briefly before moving to California with two friends she met in the service. She got a job at a water testing laboratory, but eventually decided the two-hour commute each day was not worth it. 

She decided to come back to Wapakoneta after about a year in California and was able to land a civil service job. For years she worked for the draft board during the Vietnam and Korean Wars. When the U.S. government ceased the drafting process, Rickert obtained another civil service job at the courthouse. It was there she stayed until she got married and had had a family. 

In 2004, Rickert’s husband, Roland, died and her children had already moved away to California. Before his passing, she tried to make arrangements to travel to Washington, D.C. to see the World War II Memorial that recently opened but her husband was not well enough to go.

Five years later, Rickert learned of the Honor Flight program based in Springfield, Ohio. The non-profit organization transports veterans to see the memorials of the respective war or wars they served in free-of-charge. 

The waiting list was long, and Rickert started to become discouraged. Then, three weeks after she applied, she got a call saying they had a cancellation and asked if she could fill in.

“I said, “oh yes, of course I will!,” Rickert said, smiling from ear to ear.

Three days later she was in Washington, touring all the memorials and meeting fellow veterans and politicians such as Bob Dole and his wife, Elizabeth.

“She (Elizabeth Dole) had a nice visit with me,” she said. “We chatted for about 20 minutes — I was very honored.”

Rickert was the only woman out of 40 veterans who participated in the Honor Flight program on that particular trip. 

Although she enjoyed seeing the various memorials and other sites in Washington, Rickert said one of her favorite memories of the trip took place in the Baltimore-Washington International Airport. 

“When we got to the airport there were people who stood up and applauded for us,” she said. “It was one of the most wonderful feelings I’ve had that people would applaud for me — even though what I did was so minor compared to others.”

Rickert has lived at The Gardens for about three years now and said she is enjoying her time there. She recently purchased an angel statue that was placed in the newly renovated garden area  outside of the building.

“I wanted to do something around here that is worthwhile, so I said if it’s not too expensive, I can contribute,” she said. “I wanted to do something because they’ve been good to me here. It’s a good place to be.”

Rickert also belongs to St. Paul United Church of Christ, where she participates in a book club every month. She said she enjoys living in Wapakoneta because she can talk with people she’s known for years. 

When she looks back on her time in the service, Rickert said she has fond memories and that she enjoyed the time she spent serving.

“I really did enjoy my time in service,” she said. “I hate to say that because it’s a duty, but I did things I would have never done, got to see places I’d never have gotten to see and meet people I would have never had the opportunity to meet before.

“It was sometimes disgusting, it was sometimes tiring, and sometimes I wished I was back home in Wapakoneta, but overall it was exciting. It was a good experience and I’m glad I had it."