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Celebrating the 100th birthday of a veteran of the Marine Corps Women's Reserve

Born August 20, 1922, Betty Martin was 20 when the Marine Corps Women's Reserve was established, and she became one of the early enlistees.

CALDWELL, Idaho — In a city of nearly 60 thousand people, Caldwell likely had several birthday parties over the weekend, but one was a bit special. 

Betty Martin turned 100 two days ago. She celebrated with family and friends, some of whom came all the way from southern California. 

The party was held in Martin’s own backyard, a home she still lives in on her own. While that would be worthy of acknowledgement in and of itself, Martin has another accolade attached to her. 

Born August 20, 1922, Martin was just 20 when the Marine Corps Women's Reserve was established by the Secretary of the Navy in February 1943. Within a few months, Martin became one of the early enlistees to do her part in the war effort. 

"I grew up in the era of movie stars and glamour and excitement, and my life was so boring,” Martin said. 

To hear Martin describe her childhood, her upbringing, seemed to be more about keeping her down. 

"My father and my mother were so strict I couldn't get by with anything and I was always resentful,” Martin said. “You know, tell me not to do something and I just had to do it then, and I wanted to see just how much I could get by with because it was ‘don't do this’ and ‘nice girls don't do that.’” 

But sometimes even nice girls can do extraordinary things. Martin’s road to remarkability revealed itself when she was just 19 years old. 

“I was going to art school in California, and I was living by myself in a little apartment. One Sunday night I was listening to music on the radio and suddenly this voice comes on the radio and said, 'we are interrupting this program to bring you the news, Hawaii has been attacked by the Japanese.’ I turned to ice when I heard that,” Martin said. 

America was now at war, and men were needed to fight, but it also gave rise to the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. So, Martin jumped on a bus. 

“I just remember that day, I had to go from Burbank to Los Angeles,” Martin said. “I walked in and said, 'is this where you sign up to be a woman marine?’ and he said, 'yes, it is, come on in.’” 

Betty Martin joined the Marine Corps on May 16, 1943, and during those early days, before uniforms, they had to bring their own clothes. 

“We had to buy these old lady shoes; we have to have cotton stockings that go all the way up,” Martin said. “We have to wear a girdle and when we go buy them, the officers, they would whack us on the butt to make sure we're wearing them because they didn't want us to be too suggestive.” 

That was just one way Martin and her fellow female Marines were made to feel inferior. Most of the men were too proud to welcome them into the corps. 

“Put women in it, it took away all the glamour of being a marine,” Martin said. 

Undeterred, and on the last day of instruction, Martin learned her assignment. 

“On my board it said aerial photography,” Martin said. 

So she went to North Carolina. Aside from training, she also practiced taking pictures, mostly on the base. 

“We had to take all kinds of pictures, so I got lots of good-looking men in there,” Martin said. 

But it was not all glamour shots for Martin. 

“The part that it instills in you are the drums and the music and the stomping and the marching,” Martin said. “I cry ‘HA,’ I cry every time I hear the march. Out of sentiment, I'm just so proud of em. I went into something I knew nothing about, and I fell in love with it. It is something that will always mean something bigger than I am.” 

Martin spent three years in the Marine Corps and was honorably discharged as a corporal. 

She then went back to art school in California and became an accomplished photographer, a draftsman, and even learned to stain glass. 

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