There was no single incident that caused Helen Simar to join the Army in 1943.
Mostly, it was listening to stories told by her father.
He served in World War I, Simar said, and often talked of his military experience and how much he loved it.
His words left a lasting impression.
With the country at war, Simar decided to follow in her father’s footsteps and enlisted in the Army, attending basic training and administration school in Daytona Beach, Fla.
She later worked in the payroll office at Camp Pickett in Virginia.
But as a young woman eager for challenges, she decided to volunteer to serve overseas.
Simar said she was sent to New Delhi and Kandy in Sri Lanka, where she was attached to the South-East Asia Command (SEAC) under the leadership of Lord Louis Mountbatten.
“I was a secretary to a British general while there and served until the war ended,” she said.
Simar, who lives in Mercersburg, Pa., is 89 years old.
But to many women veterans — some half her age — she has rock-star status.
By serving in the military more than 60 years ago, she helped opened doors that many women were later able to step through, they say.
And Simar agrees.
“Back then, men felt we weren’t capable of doing our job — that women were only in the military to find a husband,” she noted. “We certainly weren’t treated as equals.”
For years, she added, “many women didn’t want to admit they served in the military. They thought it was a black mark, when, in fact, women served a very important role.”
The impact women of Simar’s generation played in knocking down stereotypes and barriers has made for a special bond with those who have chosen to serve in the military today.
That bond is particularly strong, Simar said, among members of Quad State Women Veterans, an area organization for women who have served in all branches of the military.
“Young and old — there definitely is a special friendship,” she said.
The group was started in 1988, as a local unit in Martinsburg, W.Va., said President Teresa Spruill.
Veteran Su Carroll drummed up membership by placing ads at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Martinsburg, as well as in local newspapers, Spruill said.
That early group consisted of 10 Navy veterans and was chartered as a WAVE’s National.
“As time went on,” Spruill said, “other local veterans became members and the decision was made to separate from WAVES National and form a unique group in the quad-state area which allowed all members equal standing.”
Current membership includes female veterans from the Army, Navy and Air Force, she said. There currently are no Marine veterans, although there have been in the past. Ages range from women in their 90s to those in their 40s.
Although they served in different eras, Spruill, who lives in Smithsburg, said the group shares “a bond of support. We believe that ‘God and country’ didn’t end when we left the service, and this group allows us an opportunity to share that with others who feel the same way.”
While Simar served during World War II, Fayetteville, Pa., resident Joy Gray served in the U.S. Army from 1949-53.
“I joined the Army because I had a friend who was going in and convinced me to join also,” Gray said.
Gray worked at the Pentagon, initially coding information for the movement of troop organization and equipment. She later was transferred to Japan, where she worked to process the return of Japanese items to the Japanese government after World War II.
Carol Hughes, who serves as the group’s vice president, worked as a civilian nurse in the 1960s.
She was influenced by Peggy Lee’s song “Is That All There Is?” and decided to join the military to see the world.
The Army was offering a special program at the time that allowed nurses to join and be stationed overseas, the Hedgesville, W.Va., resident recalled. She ended up spending two years in Germany, where she worked at a hospital.
Spruill said she made a career of the military, retiring from the U.S. Navy in 1996. She served in Texas on two occasions, as well as in Alaska, Maine and two locations in California.
While on active duty, she participated in Desert Shield and Desert Storm on board the USNS Mercy, where she coordinated the procurement and storage of the ship’s medical supplies.
In addition to Spruill, Hughes and Simar, officers also include Nancy Frey, who serves as the organization’s secretary; Laura Wanger, who is chaplain; and Wanda Farmer, historian.
Spruill said the women meet on the second Saturday of each month, with most meetings being held at the Williamsport American Legion.
It’s a time to socialize and to share concerns, “but our group supports the quad-state area through many different projects,” Spruill said. “We’ve been involved in raising care items for female service members who are serving overseas, and have provided items to local women’s shelters, nursing homes and food banks.”
Most recently, the group donated blankets to the USS George Washington’s efforts to gather goods for the people of Japan following the earthquake there.
Simar, who serves as treasurer, said the organization is open to any woman who has served in the military, “but, for whatever reason, it’s very hard to get the younger veterans interested. We need more young blood.”
She also is a member of the National Women’s Army Corps Veterans Association’s grievance committee.
Throughout the years, Simar said she has continued to stay in touch with many of the women who served with her in the Army during World War II.
“But our numbers are dwindling,” she said. “Every year, there are fewer and fewer.”
She still has an abundance of memories.
“They are absolutely wonderful memories,” Simar said. “It was a real education. I only served three years, but it was such a great experience.”
Those who want more information can contact Spruill at 240-818-1830 or firstname.lastname@example.org; Simar at 717-498-0086; or Hughes at 304-754-7532.