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Hello Girls BankerThe photo on the left shows Sergeant Grace Banker receiving her Distinguished Service Medal. The photo on the right depicts one-half of the operators assigned to the front lines. 

Hello Girls Are The Original Rodney Dangerfield 

By Rob Watkins
via  The Newport Plain Talk newspaper (VA) web site 

Last week I told the story of a group of heroic women telephone operators and their actions during World War I. I also wrote that I would tell the rest of their story this week. Because of what happened to them when the war was over, they said the same thing as comedian Rodney Dangerfield,... “I get no respect”. Before I get to that I want to share the story of one of them who received one of America’s highest military honors.

Grace Banker

Born in 1892, in Passaic, New Jersey Grace Banker was a woman who would become a hero during World War I. The education system in NJ was not established until the mid to late 1800s. The first high school opened in 1874 and size limited the number of students. So, when Grace was born education opportunities were still limited. This did not stop her, and not only did she complete her secondary education, she graduated with a double major in history and French from Barnard College, in New York.

After college she started to work as an operator for the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T), in New York. With her exceptional drive she quickly rose, in a male dominated field, to become an instructor.

In December of 1917 she saw one of the newspaper ads that General Pershing had requested for women operators to join the Army and go to France to run the switchboards. He wanted them to be able to speak French and she felt that description fit her, so she volunteered. In 2019 her granddaughter Carol Timbie said, “My grandmother and, I think, many women at that time wanted to do their part, be a part of the war. To help win.”

The women volunteers raised their hands, swore the Army’s Oath of Enlistment, were given dog tags, and uniforms and went through months of training. When they were finished with the training they left for France and into the war. Grace kept a diary, and it shares much of her thoughts. She wrote on March 7, 1918, “Sailed this morning in a dismal gray drizzle. Watched the Statue of Liberty fade from sight. For the first time, suddenly realized what a responsibility I have on my young shoulders.”

When she arrived in France she was assigned to General Pershing’s headquarters in Chaumont, France. There she supervised the operations and women assigned to handle all the communications between the headquarters and the front. Just six months later she and a group of five other women found themselves at the front.

That September found them within the range of German artillery at the battle for St. Mihiel. General Pershing’s American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) and over 100,000 French troops were set to take the region back from the Germans. Grace and her six operators worked twelve hour shifts and her diary shares, “Never spent more time at the office and never enjoyed anything more. My girls worked like beavers.”

They were so close to the front each had helmets and gas masks. Their “office” was a badly damaged building that had been bombed by the Germans. Each day they faced the return of those planes, and severe weather without heat. At one point their living quarters had been set on fire by a German prisoner, lucky none of them were injured.

When the AEF and French forces signed a cease fire on November 11, 1918 her team was reassigned to Paris where she worked at the residence set up for visiting President Woodrow Wilson. Since it was dull work, after her experiences on the front, she accepted a position at Army headquarters in Coblenz, Germany where she stayed until September 1919, when she and her team returned to the states. While there she was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal (DSM) presented for her “exceptionally meritorious service to the government in a duty of great responsibility”.

Read the entire article on The Newport Plain Talk web site web site.

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