By Christine Baldwin | Librarian
Catharine Deitch was born in Pennsylvania on December 3, 1919 and vividly remembers the day in 1929 when the banks closed and the Depression started. Commercial feeds such as Purina Chicken Feed made their bags out of material, which was a yard square piece of printed flower designs. It was folded in the middle and sewed on a loop stitch machine, in which if you pulled the first stitch, it automatically unraveled and you had one square yard of pretty material from which her grandmother made underwear, blouses and dresses for the family.
Catharine was married on December 3, 1941. She and her husband were on their honeymoon in Daytona Beach, Florida, when the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was broadcast on the radio. Her husband picked up a broom, put it over his shoulder, started marching around and said to her “America is going to war.” They returned to Pennsylvania, rented an apartment in Harrisburg and started to get their affairs in order. Since Catherine’s husband was about to be drafted, she decided to enlist! Her active duty date began at the end of December 1942 and she traveled on a troop train to Daytona Beach, Florida, arriving just as the whistles were blowing to welcome the New Year in 1943. Since her husband’s date to report for duty was later in January, he was able to stand on the train platform and wave “goodbye” to his wife. He joked about that for many years.
Catharine served first in the WAAC until August 1943, then served in the WAC to the end of November 1945. After basic training, she was assigned to Boston, Mass., where she worked in the orderly room. From Boston, she was sent to Bradley Field, Connecticut and later Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia from there on a troop train to Riverside, California to prepare for an overseas assignment. One of the women who sailed with her was Miriam Rivkin, who also lives at AFRH-W. They had not seen or heard from each other until Catharine arrived at AFRH in 2007 – almost 75 years ago! Great reunion!
After zigzagging across the Pacific Ocean to avoid being sunk by enemy submarines, Catherine arrived at Bombay, India in October 1944. They then flew to Calcutta, India on C-47s and sat in bucket seats. They were driven up a branch of the Ganges River and lived in a huge jute mill, which the Army had converted for their headquarters.
The women were clerical workers, telephone operators, trainer specialists, cooks, medical staff, etc. They were offered the opportunity to see India and Catharine visited the Taj Mahal and saw Mt. Everest, Darjeeling in West Bengal, amongst other things. She returned to the states in November 1945 and was discharged. It was Thanksgiving Day and Fort Dix, New Jersey served them a feast! Her Army service afforded Catharine the opportunity to sail all the way around the world and she has always been thankful for this opportunity!
Catharine and her husband reunited in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where they raised a family and became a part of that historical place. Her husband loved taking people on the Battlefield and giving them tours. Some of the people that Catherine was able to meet there were Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, (with Jackie and Caroline) and David Brinkley. Catharine came to AFRH in 2007 and just celebrated her 100th birthday! She is happy and thankful for all the opportunities life has offered her!