Seeking adventure: Shirley Boehmer proud to have been a WAC

November 2011 Posted in Other

By Dixon BledsoeShirley Stafford Boehmer in her Women\'s Army Corps uniform.

As Veteran’s Day approaches, Shirley Boehmer, 81, ponders where the U.S. has been, where it is and where it is headed. To say she is a patriot would be an understatement.

A Silverton resident since 1999, Boehmer, is a spunky Korean War veteran who joined the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) at a time when it wasn’t in vogue. Growing up in Ohio, it just made sense in 1948 when she had four choices – get married, then pregnant; get pregnant, then married; work at the factories or stores, or go to college.

None of the options interested her. Instead, she told her parents, Halbert and Georgetta Stafford, she wanted to join the armed forces and they agreed.

“But then just as I was about to go in, I backed out because it didn’t seem like the right time,” she said. “But the next spring, I asked my parents again, and they said yes again. I tried to back out again, but my parents, and especially my father, said I needed to honor my commitment and go. It was the best decision I ever made.”

Growing up in a family of modest means, Boehmer and her two brothers and sister learned values like the importance of a work ethic on their family fruit farm. Boehmer enlisted in the WAC in 1949 as tensions on the Korean peninsula began to heat up. She went to basic training in Fort Lee, Va., and technical school in Augusta, Ga. She referred to Augusta as “Disgusta” at the time.

“I jumped on a bus in Augusta and went to the back of the bus, because that is where I liked to sit. I was told in no uncertain terms I couldn’t sit there and that the blacks were to sit there, not whites. It was also the first time I had ever seen a burning cross in someone’s yard. It made me sick, having come from a  small town with no issues like that,” she said.Shirley and Blossom

One time in Cleveland, she heard a disparaging remark about Jewish people, and it upset her greatly.  “But what really hit home with me was the time I innocently used the word ‘queer’ when it wasn’t derogatory, and my mother slapped me. I will never forget that, and here it is 65 five years later. I love people and have absolutely no prejudice. But there are some trashy people, and trash is trash,” she said.

The new cryptographer found herself on a ship to Tokyo, Japan in 1950.  Cryptographers were the skilled experts in classifying and transmitting information over the wires, and Boehmer had a Top Secret clearance.

“I was also highly trained in shooting a 45 caliber pistol, and I was good, too,” she said.
Always looking for an adventure, she took a second job at the Frank Lloyd Wright Hotel in Tokyo.

“I had this really cute, little outfit and got to meet a lot of people as an elevator operator. I was also asked to be a model for the newest in WAC uniforms,” she said.

Cryptography was fun and challenging for her, but the two stripes on her uniform weren’t enough and promotions were few and far between, so Boehmer changed fields and went to work as a clerk and stenographer for two “Bird Colonels”  and a one-star General in the Daitchi Building in Tokyo, location of the Army headquarters. “It was a great career. I never experienced anything about being a woman in the military that was negative. I was treated with respect and treated others respectfully.”

After working for the Judge Advocate General’s office, the military’s legal section, Boehmer headed stateside and became a civilian cryptographer in San Francisco in 1954.

“I walked the same route every day, and I saw this good looking gentleman looking at me and he remarked, ‘I better get out of your way or you’ll run over me,’” she said. “He called me for a date twice, and I accepted the second time.”

Ralph Hanley and Shirley married in 1954. “It was funny because he knew all about me right after we met, but then I caught on that he worked as a manager in the personnel office and had a good look through my file,” she said.

Shirley on an early-1950s climb up Mt. Fuji in Japan. She still has the pole she used on the expedition.Their daughter, Megan, was born a year later, and a son, Michael, shortly thereafter. Megan Osborn is a psychiatric nurse practitioner and Michael passed away of a heart attack at 37. Boehmer has two grandchildren and six great grandchildren.  Ralph was the city manager of Fresno, Calif., and Salem from 1978 into the 90s. They later divorced. She later married Clifton Boehmer and they enjoyed life together for 10 years before he passed away.

Boehmer met Dr. Philip Terry and they were together for 10 years until he passed away in 2008. “He was a wonderful gentleman. We traveled, he taught me about guns and gardening. We had a great life together and I miss him.”

She has traced her lineage to where she can prove she is a 13th generation Mayflower descendant. She is an expert photographer who refuses to buy a digital camera because she loves her Canon EOS and film. She claims to be a mediocre golfer and a pretty good bowler. She volunteers at the free community dinner each week held at the First Christian Church.

Of her time in the military and Japan just six years after WWII, she has nothing but good memories of the Japanese and how she was treated there. “They were extremely gracious to me. I climbed to the top of Mount Fuji, saw the country in all its beauty, and cannot recall one instance where they were not wonderfully gracious people.”

At 81, she knows her life can’t go on forever. “I have had a great life as a little old lady. I am very independent and never let anyone take me where I didn’t want to go.”

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