E. Pearl “Norris” Stoll shown here in her official U.S. Marine Corps portrait following her induction into the women’s 1st Batallion during WWII. (Courtesy Photo)
Evelyn “Pearl” Stoll sits proudly at her kitchen table surrounded by a reflection of herself as she looked exactly seven decades ago as a 21-year-old.
The image stares back — a proud young woman wearing a green cap, a tie and the smartly ironed uniform of a U.S. Marine.
“I’m proud of it,” Stoll said. “I don’t have to take a back seat to anybody. It still makes me feel good.”
As one of very few women left to tell the story of the 1st Battalion of the Women’s Reserve during WWII, Stoll remembers every moment of her experience. For, these were the times that changed lives. And lives changed.
Stoll, born “Norris,” grew up with a father in the U.S. Navy. She lived in Greeley, Colo. and was four months shy of her 21st birthday when she heard the announcement that the U.S. Marines would be opening a Women’s Reserve. But with her father’s signature and despite her mother’s worries, she was determined to be one of the first to enlist.
“It was Pearl Harbor Day that got me going,” Stoll said. “I remember President Roosevelt saying we were at war. It was a Sunday, and I couldn’t go to Sunday School. Anybody who lived that and heard that message could not forget,” she said.
“I wanted to do something that counted.”
That same day, Dec. 8, 1941, families were told to stay home and keep the streets clear, she remembered.
Stoll recalled looking out her window and seeing dump trucks roll by her small town street, the wagons filled with Japanese residents headed to city parks. When there, the Japanese were divided into residents and non-residents, some who were taken on to camps.
“They started right away gathering them up,” Stoll said. “That was a big effort that day.”
The time came when Stoll found her chance to make a difference. The U.S. Marine Corps announced it would officially start up its Women’s Reserve Feb. 13, 1943. Any women with training would be accepted first, Stoll heard. Stoll, a legal secretary at the time, and her friend, Angie, hatched a plan to hit the road.
In 1943, ladies didn’t drive on the roadway alone. The two women faced more than Stoll’s mother’s lectures as she took the old family car more than 50 miles into Denver to wait on the steps of the induction station when the doors opened.
Their efforts paid off. She and Angie were one of the first 15 selected for boot camp from Colorado.
Growing up with four brothers, she wanted to do what they did. At one point, she and her four brothers represented all branches of the military. She and her youngest brother joined the Marines, one joined the Coast Guard, one enlisted in the Navy and one joined the Army.
Stoll was sent to a base in Bronx, NY, where she endured six classes from March to June that year, learning to distinguish enemy aircraft and ship identification and other important information.
At first, the Marine instructors didn’t take well to the women recruits, she said. One instructor jokingly asked one student what she would do if she saw an enemy ship out in the ocean. She replied, “I would torpedo it, sir.”
He replied, sarcastically, “Where would you get the torpedo?”
The student responded, “The same place you got that battleship.”
“We all just wanted to cheer,” Stoll said. “We were the girls who could do it.”
After boot camp, each woman was assigned to a base. Stoll was sent to Pittsburg, Penn. to relieve a Marine so he could be sent overseas. The motto at the time was, “Be a Marine, free a Marine to fight.”
The $21 a month she made was enough for her to buy toothpaste and send the rest home to help her family, she said.
“All the girls then went directly to Marine bases,” Stoll said. “We were the first regiment of the 1st Battalion of the Marine Corps. We didn’t even have uniforms yet.”
The women took boot training in their civilian clothes and waiting as piece by piece of their uniforms arrived.
“You just grabbed the one that fit you the best until you had the whole outfit,” Stoll said. “I bought my own shoes.”
Stoll remembered many of the girls changing uniforms at the cleaners at times as they were only given two uniforms during their service.
“We had four shirts and we had to iron them and keep them tidy. That was the way we started. That’s the way we did it,” she said.
Once on assignment, Stoll worked on an operation called, “Under the Cover of Darkness.” Her part was to organize troops and prepare them to board troop trains that would depart at night so the troops wouldn’t be noticed. She would organize their meal tickets, get their orders and get them to the travel stations.
As soon as she had 100 to 150 troops, she would call the Secret Service and alert them to the situation.
“They had this saying, ‘Loose lips sink ships,’” she said. “Everybody had their secret parts, and they did not discuss it.”
Upon returning to Greeley, Stoll worked at a German Prisoner of War camp as a secretary and chauffeur to the Major in command.
After two years of service, Stoll became one of the first military women to attend college on the G.I. Bill. She spent two years at Colorado State University in Greeley, Colo. where she studied business administration and minored in psychology.
Stoll met her husband, who was a veteran and personal bodyguard for then General Dwight D. Eisenhower. They married and soon moved to Roswell to pay cash for a small trailer. They later had a son and daughter and remained in town.
She later became a court reporter for 33 years in Roswell, retiring at 75 years old.
“We paid $200 for a lot and designed a two-bedroom house,” she said. “We never went into debt. I came up from the depression. If you can’t pay for something, you don’t get it until you can.”
Stoll continues staying active. She takes part in the adult center’s Western dances, the senior center’s parties and the monthly Marine Corps League meetings. She is also compiling a book about her life to pass onto her children.
Stoll’s experience with the Marines shaped her self esteem, she said. She never felt she had to let anyone tell her what she couldn’t have her say.
“I felt like I was doing something important,” she said. “It was an interesting experience. I never regretted it for an instant.
“I did good.”