First female Marine in WWII celebrates 100th birthday, still remembers hazing

Our veterans have given so much for their country and their homeland. It only seems sense that we always acknowledge them and make them feel valued for their years of service.

Betty Martin was one of the first women to bravely join the Marine Corps women’s reserve. She is still alive today and recently celebrated her 100th birthday, yet she recalls her time in the navy as if it were yesterday…

Betty Martin, 100, resides in the Idaho town of Caldwell. She is adored, so much so that for her 100th birthday, some family members came up from Southern California simply to be there.

Martin’s home, in her pristine backyard, hosted the celebration. Even at the age of 100, she lives independently at home and does not require much assistance.

She recalls her youth with strict parents, having been born on August 20, 1922.

KTVB video on YouTube

“I grew up in the era of movie stars and glamour and excitement, and my life was so boring,” Martin recalls.

She recalls how many restrictions her parents imposed on her. “My father and my mother were so strict I couldn’t get by with anything and I was always resentful,” adding, “you know, tell me not to do something and I just had to do it then, and I wanted to see just how much I could get by with because it was ‘don’t do this’ and ‘nice girls don’t do that.’”

But she was able to accomplish something extraordinary: she made a life-changing decision. “I was going to art school in California, and I was living by myself in a little apartment. One Sunday night I was listening to music on the radio and suddenly this voice comes on the radio and said, ‘we are interrupting this program to bring you the news, Hawaii has been attacked by the Japanese.’ I turned to ice when I heard that.”

KTVB video on YouTube

Her reaction to the news was similar to that of many other Americans at the time of World War II. And her reaction was identical to that of many Americans. The Marine Corps Women’s Reserve was formed in the aftermath of the attack. Betty realized she had to sign up without much consideration.

‘He’s my hero,’ I say. — Fluffy, a freshly adopted cat, saved an 84-year-old veteran from a severe fall.

“I just remember that day, I had to go from Burbank to Los Angeles,” Martin remembers. “I walked in and said, ‘is this where you sign up to be a woman marine?’ and he said, ‘yes, it is, come on in.’” 

On May 16, 1943, she enlisted in the Marine Corps. She enlisted so early that the women’s uniform had not even been designed. She recalls having to buy her own clothes since the Marines required it.

KTVB video on YouTube

“We had to buy these old lady shoes; we have to have cotton stockings that go all the way up,” Martin said. “We have to wear a girdle and when we go by them, the officers, they would whack us on the butt to make sure we’re wearing them because they didn’t want us to be too suggestive,” she said.

The hazing she endured as a result of her gender in the Marine Corps was upsetting, but she did not give up. She recalls male officers feeling cheated because women could now join the Marines. “Put women in it, it took away all the glamour of being a marine,” Martin recalls.

But she didn’t let any of it bother her. Instead, she concentrated on her task.  “On my board it said aerial photography,”  Martin recalls vividly.

She was then flown to North Carolina for training, where she also honed her photography abilities.

KTVB video on YouTube

“We had to take all kinds of pictures, so I got lots of good-looking men in there,” Martin recalls cheekily.

But the work entailed much more than just capturing pretty images. “The part that it instills in you are the drums and the music and the stomping and the marching,” Martin stated. “I cry ‘HA,’ I cry every time I hear the march. Out of sentiment, I’m just so proud of em. I went into something I knew nothing about, and I fell in love with it. It is something that will always mean something bigger than I am.” 

She devoted three years of her life to the Marine Corps and received an honorable discharge as a corporal.

She returned to art school in California after completing her three-year term in the Navy. Throughout her life, she worked as a photographer, draftsman, and stained glass artist.