WWI veteran buried in 1987 without military honors receives recognition for her service
(Tribune News Service) – A woman from Newport News, Va., served in World War I, but no one played “Taps” or folded and presented the American flag at her funeral. She was buried without military honors – a wrong that a group of people wanted to right.
Marie Garrow Moss was born in Newport News and later moved to New York City where she became one of 223 women recruited into the US Army Signal Corps to operate army switchboards during World War I. The women, dubbed the “Hello Girls”, swore the Army oath and – several years later – were recognized as the first female members of the U.S. military.
After the war ended in 1918, the women were sent home without veteran’s benefits. It wasn’t until 60 years later that the law recognized them as veterans.
Moss died on July 7, 1987 – about nine years after legal recognition – at age 93. But she was buried in Greenlawn Memorial Park in Newport News without any military honor.
Newport News Historic Services partnered with the Virginia War Museum Foundation and the American Legion Braxton Perkins Post 25 and held a ceremony Saturday to present Moss’ loved ones with the honors she did not receive at her funeral. A plaque honoring his service will also be installed next to his headstone in the coming days.
“Particularly here in Hampton Roads and on the Virginia coast, we are very conscious of the role of the military and the sacrifices the military makes,” Anne E. Miller, superintendent of the city’s historic services told Newport News’ Parks and Recreation Department. “It is quite shocking to learn at the end of the war that a group of people who served were discharged without any recognition. … It’s quite shocking to hear that a veteran would be buried without the proper funeral and acknowledgment.
Moss was living in Brooklyn with her husband when advertisements recruiting women for the US Army Signal Corps appeared in the newspaper, according to Miller. Thousands of women applied, but only 223 were selected.
“They asked the women to do it because they realized they probably had some of the special skills they needed – either they would be able to speak French or they would be able to operate switchboards,” Miller said. “If they could do one of those two things, they could be trained to do the other.”
It’s unclear what led Moss to get the job, though Miller says it’s likely she spoke French because she was sent to Philadelphia for training on how to operate the switchboard.
After the war, World War I Chief Signals Officer Major General George Owen Squier reportedly said that women had an “undisputed superiority” as switchboard operators and helped the war effort by freeing men to fight on the front lines, according to the US Army website.
She was the only woman from Virginia to serve in the Signal Corps and the only woman from a southern state.
“What really struck me about Marie’s story was how different she was from what I imagined a woman’s life to be like in the early 20th century,” Miller said.
Often women did not move far from their place of birth. They got married, had children and worked as housewives, Miller said.
“It wasn’t his story at all,” Miller said.
Moss traveled with her husband. She divorced. She remarried. She never had children, according to Miller. She returned to Virginia and was very active with the Red Cross.
Moss had siblings, nieces, and nephews in Hampton Roads. One of his nieces donated Moss’ military papers, photos, uniform, and locker to the Virginia War Museum.
Moss never arrived in France during the war. Shortly before she left, her orders were changed and she remained in New York to drill until she was discharged from the army in December 1918, according to Miller.
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