Come Memorial Day, memories bitter and sweet will flood the mind of World War II veteran Lois N. Brice.
Her years in service took her all over the world and exposed her to places and foods as foreign to a small town girl from west Texas as a lobster dinner. But the good memories will probably be interrupted with sad ones, like the death of her brother, whom she buried with three Purple Hearts.
And for her only son, who has already served two tours in Iraq, Brice will remember to say a prayer.
Brice is one of the few surviving members of the Women’s Auxiliary Army Core, the first group of women to serve in the Army. She plans to celebrate the Memorial Holiday weekend by remembering her four brothers that served in the military, her husband and her son.
Rim Country residents can honor veterans this weekend as well by attending a tribute program on Sunday or Monday. Sunday programs will be held at area cemeteries, with one at Payson Pioneer Cemetery starting at 9 a.m., and another at Mountain Meadows Memorial Park at 10 a.m. On Monday, programs include an 8 a.m. flag-raising ceremony at Mazatzal Hotel and Casino and a 10 a.m. program at the Veterans Memorial in Green Valley Park.
Brice said it is feels wonderful to be recognized by others for her service.
“People that know me and even those that don’t will stop me and thank me and it makes me feel great,” she said.
Brice joined the Women’s Auxiliary Army Core in 1940.
A year later, auxiliary was dropped from the name and the group was made a part of the Army service. That was the first time women were sent overseas or allowed to serve in the military.
Brice said she learned little about the country, much less the world, growing up on a small farm in west Texas. When the opportunity to travel abroad was offered with the service, she leapt.
“I was ignorant to the world before I went in; we did not even have a TV or a radio,” she said. “I learned a lot about life in there.”
Brice was assigned to personnel and worked typing and filing, mainly for the Army.
Since it was the first time women were allowed in the service, Brice said they underwent a fair share of teasing and sexual harassment from men.
“They thought you should be at home,” she said. “They thought this is a man’s job.”
After enlisting, Brice was shipped overseas from New York on the Queen Mary to Morocco in North Africa.
When she arrived, she was told to sleep on the straw beds in the barracks for several days. After a few uncomfortable nights of sleep, she was moved to Algiers, Algeria where she was stationed for six months.
Brice and other woman in the service would often exchange information from officers, sergeants and generals.
One time she was asked to convey a list of information to Major-General Ben Sawbridge. It was the first time she had ever addressed a general, so she wanted to get it right and meticulously memorized every word.
When she finally addressed Sawbridge, she said she clicked her heels, saluted him and looked him straight in the eye only to tell him, “I have forgotten everything the sergeant told me to tell you.”
He laughed and told me to send in the sergeant, Brice said.
Brice said she must have made an impression on the general, because two years later when her brother, Staff Sgt. Paul Nail, was killed in France by an enemy motor shell, he sent a private plane for her to visit her brother’s grave in Italy.
Paul was 20 when he was killed, but he earned several medals including three Purple Hearts for his short time in the service.
She had three other brothers who served in the Navy, Air Force and Army, and survived.
After spending time in Algeria, Brice moved to Cairo, Egypt. One of the more memorable trips she took was to the pyramids and sphinxes on a camel. She was allowed to hike up into one of the pyramids and look through an old tomb.
While the pyramids were amazing, Cairo was more interesting, she said.
“Cairo was a funny place. There was very little sanitation. You would see people squatting all over and there were no women on the streets.”
After spending time in Cairo and six months on the road, Brice moved to Caserta, Italy where she stayed for the next two-and-a--half years.
Brice was stationed in an old castle with no running water. Besides the lack of public toilets in most cities, Brice said the thing she remembers most about all of her travels was the amount of ornamentation found in the architecture, which “was very different from west Texas.”
She even ate seafood for the first time and kissed Pope Pius XII’s hand at the Vatican.
After serving for three years, Brice returned home where she married a man who had also served in WWII, but in New Guinea and the former Dutch East Indies. They had four children, and her son, Adam, is currently serving in the Marines. He has already served two tours in Iraq.
For Brice’s birthday, Adam gave her an American flag that was flown over Camp Fallujah in Iraq to honor her time in the service.