WATM recently caught up with 91-year-old WWII Navy Veteran Norma Bauerschmidt, who made headlines when she opted out of medical treatment for her stage IV uterine cancer to live the rest of her days seeing the country that she served rather than the walls of a hospital.
“Miss Norma,” as she has come to be known, made her decision two days after her husband Leo of 67 years and Army-Air Corps veteran passed away. She and her poodle, Ringo, now live in an RV with her son and daughter-in-law. She has no regrets.
“I’m having the time of my life!” Norma said in an interview with The Huffington Post. “I’m done with doctors.”
Q: What made you want to join the service?
A: I wanted to help our country. I have always been quite patriotic. I was the only girl from my neighborhood who went into the service. I served 1945-1946.
Q: Did your parents approve?
A: My mother didn’t say one way or the other. My father said I could do it but I couldn’t sign up until I was 20. I think that was the Navy’s rule for women, not my father’s.
Q: You served in the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services). What made you interested in joining?
A: I always looked up to my older brother, Ralph. He went into the Navy before he graduated from high school. He was probably about 17. I thought I should follow in his footsteps.
Q: What was your job in the WAVES?
A: I was a nurse. I remember giving a lot of penicillin shots.
Q: Where were you stationed?
A: I did basic training at Hunters College in New York. I then took the train to San Diego Navel Hospital for the remainder of my service.
Q: Where did you meet your husband?
A: My brother Ralph and my husband Leo were buddies. Ralph introduced me to Leo in Toledo, Ohio 1947. They remained best friend for all those years and died exactly a month apart from each other.
Q: Where were you on the day World War II ended? What was your memory of that day?
A: We were in the barracks in San Diego. I remember feeling elated. Everyone was jumping up and down, screaming and hollering. It was a very big day!
Q: What advice do you have for women who are currently serving?
A: I don’t have any advice. I’m just glad that they are serving.
Q: What is your definition of patriotism?
A: Supporting those who have chosen to serve our country.
Q: What was your most memorable moment of service?
A: I remember “borrowing” a male sailor’s leave pass so I could enjoy some time with my girlfriends who had a different day off from me. I hope the statute of limitations is up on this one!
Q: You were down to your last three cents when Congressman Ford personally delivered your benefit checks. Did he spend time with you and your husband?
A: At the time he was a new congressman. He simply dropped off our checks. We were so grateful and surprised that he would come out himself. He didn’t visit more than to make sure we had what we needed. I would have liked to have given him a cookie, but we didn’t have any food at the time. Our interaction with him allowed us to get on our feet and begin our life together. He was a good man.
Q: Are there any other Navy Ships / National monuments that you’d like to visit?
A: Well, we are in Boston right now and are planning to visit the USS Constitution this week. And I would really like to see the USS Arizona Memorial in Hawaii someday.
Q: Did you join any veterans organizations after your service?
A: The only thing I remember is registering at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial in Arlington, VA along with my daughter who served in the Army and later became a special agent in the US Secret Service.
Q: What was the most valuable lesson the military taught you?
A: I am sure many lessons have stuck with me throughout my life. I am proud to say a quarter still bounces off my bed!
Watch the video of her visit aboard USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78):