Tuesday, November 11, 2008
I interviewed an amazing woman today!
My job as a staff writer for the newspaper just got a whole lot better today! I spent a couple of hours with a veteran from WWII who was a poster girl for the Marines. One of my best Veteran's Days yet. She is amazing! Here is a little of her story.
The Few, The Proud – A WWII Woman Marine!
Norris Dolvin Deem was a young 21 year old patriot in 1944 when she decided that she had to do more for the war effort. To celebrate Veteran’s Day November 11th, I interviewed this living legend at her daughter Laura’s home in Provo. Still passionate about her war-time service at age 85, she stands as an example for women of all ages. ‘I was a patriot before I was a Marine. I wanted to put another star in my mother’s window beside the one for my brother Paul who was a paratrooper in the air force.” Norris leaned toward me as she described her determination to join one of the armed forces that day even though women were not encouraged to join. Norris knew that with some college education and experience as a legal secretary she had something to offer. After stopping at the recruiting offices for the Army, Air Force, and Navy, she chose the Marines because they answered her question satisfactorily. “What can I get from you? And the Marines told me that anything I get from the corps I would have to earn. I liked that attitude – so I became a Marine”
Norris set about proving that she was the right woman for the Marine Corps from the very beginning. During the long marches at boot camp in North Carolina she recited her father’s motto about the rubber ball. “The harder they hit me the higher I bounce.” After completing boot camp, Norris was stationed at Marine headquarters in Washington D.C. as a secretary to one of the officers. It was during this assignment that she became the most famous Marine woman of her time. A contest was announced for all military photographers to find the face of the Marines. As Norris walked down the hall toward the candy machine, one of the photographers asked her to pose. When she was taken to the commandant’s office a few months later he announced that her picture had been chosen. “Your picture reflects the pride you have in wearing the Marine Corps uniform and the pride you have in being an American patriot,” he told her.
PFC Dolvin became the poster girl for the Marines. Her picture was everywhere! In fact, the young man who would later become her husband first noticed her on a seven story tall billboard hung across the Golden Gate Bridge. As Woody Deem traveled home to Washington D.C. he couldn’t get her out of his mind. This beautiful redhead gazed at him from posters on gas station walls, magazine covers, and bill boards along the highways - even on a stamp for a postcard. He soon met Norris as he attended a fireside where she was the speaker. After her remarks he approached and asked if it would be all right to call her. She chuckled as she remembered their first meeting and her reply. “You can try but I live in one of four barracks with forty other women and we only have one phone!”
Woody persevered and the couple was married Feb. 11, 1947 in the Salt Lake Temple. Norris soon left the Marines and supported her husband who worked for Ernest L. Wilkinson in his law office in Washington D.C., then later as he continued his law career as the District Attorney for Ventura County in California.
After many happy years in California, the Deems moved to Hawaii where Woody
became one of the first faculty members at the Church College of Hawaii. Later, in the 1970’s he joined the new BYU Law School’s faculty. During these years Norris was busy as a mother to their eight adopted children and giving patriotic speeches. She also made time for an auto mechanic class since she was fixing up her ’66 blue Mustang convertible in her spare time.
Norris said she always enjoyed marching in parades where she was happy to carry the Marine flag. “I always wanted to fire a rifle, but they never would let me!” Often she was the guest of honor and rode in car where she could wave to those that lined the parade route.
Norris has received many awards over the years. The first honor as International Cover Girl for the US Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, was followed by other recognitions. In 2003 she received the Utah Woman of Achievement Award, and later the American Legion’s World War II Women’s Veteran Honoree Award.
The Deems retired to St. George where Norris joined the American Legion. She had wanted to join while living in Provo but Provo didn’t have a unit at the time. She continued in retirement to give many lectures on patriotism and be involved with the Legion. An avid reader, Norris said one of her favorite books is “No Doubt about It” by Sheri Dew. She also enjoys watching Pink Panther movies and spending time with her wonderful family.
As we end our interview, I ask this amazing woman what advice she would like to give to the younger women who will read about her. She takes out a small leather notebook and reads, “The only happiness in life is to love and be loved.” These are wise words from a woman who is an example of patriotism and service for all of us.