FAIRFAX, Ohio - For many people, living through something like the COVID-19 global pandemic, 9/11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center or moon landing might be considered a once-in-a-lifetime event.
For Lorraine (Mulvaney) Vogelsang, a World War II-era veteran, that is not the case as she prepares to celebrate her 100th birthday Aug. 29.
“It does not seem real to be turning 100,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot in my lifetime, but it seems that the time goes so fast for the young people, and even faster for the older people.”
Vogelsang served in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps from February to August 1943.
The WAAC was established in 1942 for the purpose of “making available to the national defense the knowledge, skill and special training of women of the nation,” according to a historical account on Army.mil. After training, they would be assigned to a 150-woman “table of organization” company, which had spaces for jobs such as clerks, typists, drivers, cooks and unit cadre, with the four primary fields being baking, clerical, driving and medical.
In January 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into legislation a bill that allowed for the enlistment and commissioning of women into the Army or Reserve forces, and dropped “auxiliary” from the name.
So on Aug. 11 that year, Vogelsang transitioned from the WAAC to the Women’s Army Corps, where she served until her separation in August 1945 with the rank of sergeant.
Growing up in Great Depression
Vogelsang, a native of Fairfax, Ohio, grew up as the third-oldest among a large family of eight brothers and sisters.
Without today’s inventions, they had to find ways to entertain themselves.
“We would often play together and with our cousins who lived across the street from us,” she recalled. “We would go on picnics and for walks up to Mariemont, which had bell towers to listen to them.
“On the way to Mariemont, I remember we would go through some woods and we would always find arrowheads, and play with them for a bit. However, we wouldn’t keep them. We would always discard them for other kids to find later.”
Back home, the kids would turn to classic games like hide-and-seek to help pass the time and occasionally, Vogelsang and her cousin, Dorothy, would play “dress up,” pretending to be the people they would see in fashion photos they’d cut out of the Sunday paper and magazines.
“Dorothy’s family could afford magazines that we could not get, so she always had more clippings than I did to look at,” Vogelsang said. “I remember one day I went to look for my box of cutouts and I could not find it. I asked one of my younger brothers if he had seen them, and he said that he had squirted it with the hose, so I had lost all of them.”
Vogelsang’s father worked as a supervisor at a local machine shop where he and one of his bosses were trying to invent a dry-cleaning machine. When they got really close to finishing, he went in to work on it and the machine had disappeared.
During the Great Depression, her dad lost his job, which caused strain on the family.
“There would be days that my mom would say ‘we are hiding today’ because an insurance man or someone like that would be coming to the door to collect,” Vogelsang said. “So we would have to be very quiet so he didn’t know we were home.
“At mealtimes, we kids would sit at the table eating, and my mother would sit with us. We thought she was eating as well. We didn’t find out until later that she wasn’t. She was choosing to go hungry so that we kids could eat.”
Vogelsang still remembers the food she and her family would eat during this period.
“We ate a lot of bologna in many different forms because we thought it was really good,” she said. “In fact, the butcher asked us once if that was all we ate.”
Today, Vogelsang says she cannot eat bologna because it just doesn’t taste the same as it did back then. Growing up, her dad also made soup.
“My dad would make us a soup that he made up called ‘Mock Turtle Soup’ that consisted of lots of milk and a bit of tomatoes,” she said. “We would get milk and cheese from the city each month for the entire family, so he was able to use what we had to make it.”
Her mom would do laundry in the tub with a scrub board. She would hang long johns out on the line. In the winter, the wind came through and froze them stiff.
Vogelsang did not complete high school.
“I went to the first year of high school and there was one week left, and when I came home from class, my dad told me that I couldn’t go back to school because my mother was ill and she needed my help with the children,” she said.
Eventually, her mother started feeling better, so Vogelsang began working in a local laundry facility as a hand-presser before deciding to join the WAAC.
“I stayed home for a while, and after she was feeling better, I figured it was OK to leave,” she said. “I would not have left if I thought she still needed me.”
After the decision to join the WAAC, she told her parents and prepared to leave her family and all that she knew to go off on her own.
“Mom and dad were not too happy about it,” she recalled. “But they never did say that they didn’t want me to go in.”
Vogelsang left for basic training at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, from the train station in nearby Cincinnati.
“I remember mom and dad taking me to the station,” she said. “Once I got to the train, I couldn’t see them anymore and that was it. I was on my own.”
During training, Vogelsang remembers spending much of her time on the parade grounds.
"It was a huge circle with houses all around it that were used in the Civil War, which were turned into housing,” she said. “We occasionally would get shows, or visitors to our base. In fact, one of the visitors was President Franklin Roosevelt, and we paraded for him."
After four weeks of basic training, she worked as a military baker for seven months, and a clerk for almost a year and a half. She even had a short stint in butcher training.
“When they were trying me out as a butcher, they taught us how to use the sharp knives and which one to use on what part of the carcass,” Vogelsang recalled. “Then, two men came in from a truck outside carrying a dead lamb, and that is all I remember. I guess I passed out, because I do not remember anything else after that. Needless to say, I didn’t last very long in that job.”
During her time as a clerk, Vogelsang worked in the Fort Oglethorpe Club and was responsible for the planning and execution of base events.
Though serving during WWII, Vogelsang never deployed overseas.
“My best friend was sent overseas and I was wondering why I didn’t get sent overseas,” she said, adding that colleagues told her she was too invaluable in her position on station.
After her time at Fort Oglethorpe, she was sent to Lubbock Army Airfield in Texas, where she was stationed for the remainder of her enlistment.
The military once put her image on a recruitment poster, she said. However, she doesn’t recall the poster ever being officially used because the war ended before it could be distributed.
Life after the war
After separating from the service, Vogelsang returned to work at the laundry facility in Fairfax.
Eventually, she married and had three children of her own.
“When she came home, and had us kids, she still cooked like she was cooking for the Army,” said Mary Henninger, her daughter. “We would always have leftovers for days because she would cook large pots of everything.”
Among her siblings, Vogelsang is one of only two still remaining. As she prepares to celebrate her centennial birthday with family, she has a tip for longevity.
“They key to reaching 100 is staying busy and keep your body moving,” she says.