Mother, wives, daughters: Women share war stories
A wife gave birth to her first child while her husband was overseas.
Other women lived with men who kept war experiences buried.
It’s a side of veteran stories that sometimes is overlooked: the woman’s voice.
Evansville area servicewomen along with mothers, wives and daughters of servicemen shared their stories of war Monday afternoon at Evansville’s Memorial Day observance program.
The home front
Pat Engendorf was 10 years old when her father left to serve in World War II for more than two years.
“I thought that was a very long time with a Daddy gone,” she said.
She recalled collecting scrap metal a wagon for the war effort. Other times she gathered the silk from milkweed pods for the lining of pilot jackets.
“They had several other drives we were always in on,” she said.
Mildred Clark spent nervous months as her four sons served in Vietnam.
“I think I’m one of the luckiest people in the world for having four boys in service, and they all came back in one piece—all healthy and well,” she said.
Two sons were helicopter pilots. The other two repaired electronic equipment on high-altitude planes.
“It was really hard a lot of times when they were gone because … nobody at that time sympathized at all with what you were going through,” she said. “Because they said, ‘Well, why are they there in the first place?’”
“I am very proud of all my children, and I’m just very lucky to have four healthy, young men,” she said.
Evelyn Cantrell hadn’t planned to raise her baby daughter alone. But the Tet Offensive started in January 1968 “and he was gone.”
Her husband was sent to Korea as an airplane mechanic.
“He was suppose to be home in a year. He didn’t get home for almost 18 months,” she said. “In that time, I had our first child … and he never saw her. It was very difficult as a young wife.”
Moment of understanding
Cantrell didn’t realize how hard it was for soldiers in Vietnam until after her husband and their friends were attending a party after the war.
The men were sitting with their backs to the wall when a young girl ran screaming across the yard.
“Every one of those men jumped up looking for their guns,” she said.
“Then I realized I was the lucky wife,” she said, because her husband had been in Korean, not Vietnam.
It wasn’t until 1986 that Carolyn Sperry’s husband, Scott, was able to start dealing with issues from his service in Vietnam. While going through a three-month program for Vietnam vets, he found out he had posttraumatic stress disorder.
The family finally was able to talk about the war, about his nightmares, about the quiet moments when he couldn’t share private thoughts, she said.
They attended Marine reunions, and Sperry talked to other wives, “which helped me understand that we all dealt with not talking about things,” she said.
“I think things improved over time,” she said.
Cathy Inabnit didn’t get the chance to hear about her late husband’s Vietnam service. It wasn’t spoken about after he returned from war. He died years later without ever opening up about the experience.
“I’m very proud of what he did,” she said.
Finding out for herself
With all the talk of military service, Sperry decided to join the military in 1990 during Desert Storm.
“I thought, ‘Well I’m a nurse, I think I’ll sign up,’” she said. “I talked to a recruiter, and three weeks later I’m signed up.”
She’s been a nurse at the Veterans Hospital in Madison for six years and works in mental health and research.
She said Iraq veterans get help with posttraumatic stress disorder sooner than Vietnam veterans, who often waited years before getting help.
“I’m really pleased to be working in that aspect taking care of the guys,” she said.
All in the family
Peggy Maves met her husband, Bill, about a year after his service in Vietnam. She didn’t know a lot about the war—just what she’d seen on TV.
“I was young and free,” she said.
After they married, she noticed his lack of emotion and difficulty saying, “I’m sorry,” she said.
“He was a Marine, and you know a Marine—everything had to be perfect, and I wasn’t like that,” she said, noting she came from a family of 10.
Their marriage improved over the years, and meeting people at military reunions helped her understand what her husband had gone through, she said. Bill later joined the National Guard and completed a tour in Iraq, retiring in 2006.
Bill’s mother, Mary Maves, served as an Army nurse during the last year of World War II at a hotel turned into an orthopedic hospital in Augusta, Ga. She met her husband, Elroy, who was a Marine, and the two eventually settled in Edgerton.
Mary said was difficult having family members serve in subsequent wars.
“It wasn’t easy, but you survive and get through it,” she said.
TO LEARN MORE
The ladies auxiliary of the VFW in Evansville is dwindling, said Janis Ringhand, secretary of the organization.
“The ladies from World War II—there aren’t many left anymore. The wives of the Vietnam vets are still pretty active in jobs, and the new Iraq veterans’ wives are just too busy with families,” she said. “So, unfortunately, it’s an organization that is shrinking.”
Ringhand invited interested woman to attend auxiliary meetings and breakfast at 9:30 a.m. the fourth Saturday of every month at the Red Barn Restaurant, 7530 N. County M, Evansville.