World War II Army nurse Dorothy LeClair, with the flag that was presented to her in honor of her husband, WWII Army veteran Carl LeClair.
Dorothy LeClair just wanted to serve her country, so much so that she was willing to quit her nursing job to avoid being categorized as “essential.”
At just 22 years old, LeClair was working in Lake Placid as a nurse. She went to her supervisor one day and told her that she wanted to join the service. Her boss said that she was happy for her, and that she would really enjoy the service. Then she went behind her back and told the Army that Dorothy was essential to the hospital. As an essential, she couldn’t be taken into the Army.
“So then I got a letter from the Army telling me that I had to stay in Saranac Lake,” said LeClair. “So I wrote back to them and said that I’m quitting, so I’m not essential to anybody. So then they gave me my orders. I was so mad at Saranac Lake. I was just so mad at that hospital.”
She still has that same fiery spirit now, at 92. Telling the story her voice rises noticeably. She still hasn’t forgiven her hospital supervisor.
LeClair entered the Army, and became a Second Lieutenant serving in a hospital on Long Island. She was taking care of returning service men suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or “shell-shock” as they referred to it in those days.
“It was sad. That was not what I wanted to do. You couldn’t get close to them, and get involved in their history or anything,” she said. “Because then you really…you just did your work.”
She had married her husband Carl on his 45 day leave between his deployment in Germany, and subsequent transfer to the Pacific Theater after the war in Europe had ended in May 1945. When the war in the Pacific ended the following August, Carl insisted that she leave the army. Because she was an officer, she was able to get out much sooner than Carl, but eventually the pair reunited and settled back in the North Country.
“I’m very happy I served. I would’ve liked to stay in, if I hadn’t gotten married.”
Dorothy didn’t talk about her service much, not even to her husband. In fact, her friends at the senior center were shocked when she was approached to participate in an Honor Flight to Washington.
As appears to be a unanimous sentiment with Honor Flight veterans, Dorothy was thrilled by her trip to Washington. Arlington Cemetery and the Changing of the Guards stand out as one of the high points to her.
“I loved it. It was tiring but it was so great. Right from the minute we got to the Oval until we got back to the airport,” she said.
But there was another high point for Dorothy on the trip. While the group was at the World War II Monument, she was pulled out of the group by one of the Honor Flight organizers. She didn’t know at the time what it was for.
“Someone from Honor Flight said ‘Dorothy, come with me,’ and I said it isn’t time to go back yet!”
She was brought to the New York section of the Monument with her grand-daughter who had accompanied her to Washington, and was presented a flag in honor of her husband Carl, who had died in 2011.
Dorothy regularly attends Honor Flight events, representing a not forgotten, but possibly underappreciated part of the war effort: the women who served their country in World War II. For some, like Dorothy, it was a fight just to get to do that, but one that was well worth fighting.