Thirty-five years after her death, a Newport News veteran receives recognition
- Written by Paul Bibeau
- Category: Local News
- Published: 11 July 2022
A bugler played taps while an honor guard from Fort Eustis stood in front of Marie Moss’s grave and folded the flag at Greenlawn Memorial Park in Newport News.
They presented it to Chris Garcia, who isn’t related to Moss and works for the Virginia War Museum.
Normally a family member would accept the flag for Moss, but it wasn’t possible. Organizers could not locate descendants for a ceremony giving her the veteran’s funeral she didn’t get when she died in 1987.
Moss was one of the first women to enlist in the Army to serve in the signal corps, who helped military personnel keep in touch across battlefields. The corps, made up primarily of women, weren't recognized as veterans until the 1970s.
No one’s sure why Moss didn’t get a proper veteran’s funeral, Garcia said, but he said remembering people who served was “a sacred duty.”
Moss was born to a family of farm laborers from Denbigh.
She enlisted in the Army in 1918 and became a signal corps operator -- also called "Hello Girls."
During WWI, the United States and other allied powers needed switchboard operators to connect officers across the battle front.
It was a position usually held by women, so the United States became the first country in modern history to enlist women.
Fewer than 400 women served as operators, and Moss is the only woman from Virginia who joined the switchboard operators, according to Garcia. She served for only a few months and received a letter a month after Armistice Day saying her military service was over.
It was an abrupt end and without the recognition veterans receive.
“No lump sum. No benefits. Just the familiar, ‘Thank you for your service,’” Garcia said.
President Woodrow Wilson acknowledged the operators’ contributions in a 1918 speech to Congress.
It would still be almost 60 years before the government considered them veterans.
“They got to keep their uniforms but that was about it,” said Al Barnes, the historian for the Virginia National Guard.
Barnes said supporters made 27 attempts to give the Hello Girls veteran status. By the time it happened in 1977, most of the operators were dead.
“They really did their job. They expected nothing. They got nothing. But they never quit,” Barnes said.