Her name was LeOna Kriesel, and she was 27-years-old; a recent graduate from University of Minnesota and teaching at Allegheny College. When a fellow Allegheny teacher revealed he was also a recruiter for the American Red Cross he said, "LeOna, I've been observing you. I believe you'd make a good Red Cross Girl. Are you interested in applying for the job?" It took LeOna just seconds to exclaim, "Would I, you bet I would!"
LeOna was my mother. Growing up I heard her stories about running enlisted men's social clubs in Constantine, Algeria, and Rome, Italy, from 1943 - 1945, more times than the law allows. My father and I practically ran for cover when she'd start telling them again.
I found a box containing all of my mother's letters when packing her home, sadly preparing to move her into the dementia unit of a nursing home. It was powerful to see my mother's beautiful, cursive writing, on v-mails and onionskin paper. So long ago, when she was so young. Excitedly relating every detail of her exciting new life in the most exotic places she could have imagined, and her beloved GIs.
She also told about "Johnny," who became my father. They had fallen in love in Constantine, and married in Rome, September of 1944. She told how she petitioned Pope Pius XII, to share electricity reserved for his address to the world so the organ could be played at her wedding. Which to everyone's surprise but hers, he did.
Reliving all those stories, now under very different circumstances, it was clear I had to write a book.
LeOna's story is part of the permanent collection of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery. Special Collections & Rare Books, Elmer L. Andersen Library, University of Minnesota. It was also the subject of a talk presented at the Pritzker Military Library in Chicago, Illinois.
A fun look through the scrapbook like pages and letters of an American Red Cross Girl in North Africa and Italy.