Passaic event was another step to gain recognition for forgotten ‘Hello Girls’ of WWI

Published: 14 June 2024

By David M. Zimmer
via the website

Grace Banker and six of the Hello Girls pose for a photo atop the AT&T Building in New York City prior to leaving for Europe during World War I (Provided by Carolyn Timbie)

A recent ceremony in Passaic’s Armory Park was another step to gain recognition for some of World War I’s lesser-known heroes.

Colloquially known as the U.S. Army’s “Hello Girls,” the 223 women were selected out of thousands of volunteers for a daunting task in battle-scarred Europe. For months, they kept key lines of communication open as telephone switchboard operators for the U.S. Army Signal Corps, some working from just behind the front lines.

Perhaps the most prominent of the Hello Girls was Passaic’s own Grace Banker. A perennial honor student and valedictorian of her Passaic High School class in 1911, the soft-spoken Banker grew up on Van Houten Avenue. She went on to become chief operator for the first unit of Signal Corps telephone operators, the select group assigned to Gen. John Pershing’s command center.

Grace Banker in her U.S. Army Signal Corps uniform. (Carolynn Timbie Family Photo)

She became the face of the Hello Girls.

“She really is a hero, but things get lost to history,” said Banker’s granddaughter, Carolyn Timbie of New Hampshire.

To share the little-known story of the Hello Girls and cement their legacy, Timbie and others are lobbying to posthumously award the 223 women with Congressional Gold Medal. They have some support.

Since a federal bill to bestow the Hello Girls with the Congressional Gold Medal was reintroduced in March 2023, 58 co-sponsors have offered support in the U.S. Senate, congressional records show. The matching bill in the House of Representatives has 134. A lot have joined after Timbie and others, including Hello Girls biographers and documentarians, started making regular trips to Washington, D.C., this past January, records show.

A bipartisan effort, the bill is meant to honor “extraordinary women who were denied veteran status for far too long,” Senate Committee of Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jon Tester (D-Montana) said after introducing the bill in 2023.

“The Hello Girls took a military oath and risked their lives to protect our nation by leading critical efforts on the front lines that helped our allied forces win the war,” he said. “They blazed a new path for women on the front lines, and the Congressional Gold Medal will honor their service and fight for recognition as veterans.”

Both the Senate and House bills have been sent to committee review and may not ever see a floor vote, but Timbie is confident the process is well on its way.

Mark Auerbach, the former city historian in Passaic, said Banker and the Hello Girls were amazing women and undoubtedly full-fledged veterans. They worked with their gas masks and helmets slung on the back of their chairs in some of the Great War’s most hostile territory.

“They were combatants, no ifs, ands or buts about it,” he said.

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