As the U.S. military presence that was so dominant a factor in World War II continues to disappear, there is a tendency to remember it as an all-male force.
But women were part of the 12.5 million in uniform then, including Valmeyer resident Lucy Engbring. From 1944 to 1946, she was U.S. Marine Corporal Lucy Martino.
Today, it is nearly impossible to categorize her. But for sure, in various capacities, she has been and continues to remain close to our military.
A Milwaukee, Wis., native, she graduated from South Division High School in June 1941. Her high school sweetheart, Jerry, graduated a semester later.
Engbring attended Wisconsin State Teacher’s College in Milwaukee before heading off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she eventually majored in journalism.
Engbring told of her days at UW, including the thousands of servicemen attending there preparing for combat. She told of writing letters to several after they left and getting them returned marked “Deceased.”
“I felt I had to do something, and I decided to join the Marine Corps in 1944,” she said. “That wasn’t a very popular decision with my mother.”
Engbring went to recruit training at Camp Lejeune, N.C. She wanted to leverage her college accomplishment into an officer’s commission, but that required her to be 24 years old. She was just 21.
After a stint of organ playing for the base church — she had a solid musical background —Engbring was assigned to KP, washing pots and pans, while they decided what to assign her to do. She was finally sent to Quantico, Va., Marine Base to serve as an instructor. She served there until the war’s end.
Engbring told of meeting many male Marines in training. In February 1945, she awoke one morning to hear about the invasion of Iwo Jima in the Pacific. As days passed, no news turned to tragic news as she learned virtually entire units she knew were reported to have died in the violent invasion.
Jerry Engbring and Lucy Martino got out of the service —her as a Marine and Jerry as a Navy pilot — virtually simultaneously in May 1946.
Lucy returned to the University of Wisconsin on the GI Bill and graduated in 1948 with a degree in journalism. She and Jerry planned to get married at the end of the school year.
“But Jerry convinced me we should move that date up and get married during the Easter-Spring Break — and we did,” she said.
Jerry was still drawn to the military and shifted focus to the Air Force for 18 more years, crossing the country with Lucy and a growing family — including a combat tour in Vietnam — before returning to Milwaukee.
Still attracted to a military-type life, Jerry learned of a chance to go to work for the Defense Mapping Agency (now the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency) in St. Louis.
“I told him I didn’t want to live in a city — not St. Louis,” Lucy said.
So they found a home able to accommodate their family in the semi-rural environment of old Valmeyer.
After one area move, they returned to Valmeyer in 1986 and the home where Lucy resides today.
During their life in Valmeyer, their large family that included 11 children was finally all in school and Lucy decided to return to work.
She wanted to teach, but not holding a teaching certificate, she could only teach remedial reading. She plunged back into education again, and gathering courses from several area colleges, was finally able to get into teaching.
She moved about the Valmeyer school system for 10 years, substituting and teaching everything from driver’s education to chemistry.
“I had to study at home every night for the next day’s chemistry class,” she confided.
She also taught physical education, home economics and Spanish, and even assumed duties as the school librarian.
In 1993, as the Mississippi River rose to historic elevations and the levee was threatened, Engbring told how she was directed to pack the books and prepare to evacuate.
“I was carefully boxing them, in order, when the threat was raised and I was directed to ‘get them all out — now!’ Students came in and we threw them in boxes as rapidly as possible and they were hauled away. When we moved into temporary trailers at the fairgrounds, it took me two weeks to get them reorganized,” she said. “Then many were damaged when one trailer leaked.”
Lucy’s military involvement didn’t end with her discharge, and even with husband Jerry’s 23-year active duty.
Marines will tell you: there is no such thing as a “former Marine.” Once a Marine, always a Marine.
Both joined the American Legion.
“I’ve been part of the local Valmeyer Post 901 for 45 years, through three Legion Halls,” Engbring told. “First, there was a former one-room school building, then a new hall adjacent to Borsch Park, which was destroyed in the 1993 flood, and finally the current hall in new Valmeyer,” she said.
Jerry played a major role in building the current hall.
“He used to go up there almost every day,” she said. “He’d check everything, empty trash, and make sure the building was properly secured.”
Lucy could have been a legion member herself, but chose to engage as part of the women’s auxiliary. Her 45 years included 13 years as auxiliary president, which saw her reading the names of deceased veterans at each annual Memorial Day ceremony as a bell was rung for each one.
Today, she serves as the post historian.
“I’m the one with the longest memory,” she said with a laugh.
When both she and her husband Jerry retired, they took up the challenge of traveling to all the national parks and visiting their children and grandchildren.
“Jerry passed away two-and-a-half years ago. So we didn’t complete the list,” she said, looking quietly at the end of the dining area table where she told how Jerry played solitaire.
“I’ve been told I should get the table refinished. But those marks are where Jerry played cards. I don’t want to erase them.”
The Engbring family has been and remains a huge success — a testimony to their parents. Among its children are archaeologists, park rangers, a bush pilot in Alaska who just brought his plane south for the winter and is residing in the area — and much more.
And Lucy hasn’t slowed, either. In addition to gardening and yard work, she maintains a spotless home, plays piano at Oak Hill and continues a close involvement with the local American Legion post.
As we approach the celebration of contributions made by veterans to America, another remembrance of Lucy’s life is coming appropriately close — her 94th birthday will be celebrated this Veterans Day.