One day before President-elect Barack Obama won the 2008 election, his beloved grandmother Madelyn Dunham, who he called "Toot" — short for "Tutu" the Hawaiian word for grandparent — died at her home in Honolulu. She was 86 years old. Madelyn helped to raise Obama during his teenage years in Hawaii and he called her the "cornerstone" of his family.
On November 3, 2008, in Charlotte, North Carolina, Obama spoke of her fondly, "She was somebody who was a very humble person, a very plainspoken person. She is one of those quiet heroes we have all across America, who are not famous, their names are not in the newspapers, but each and every day they work hard. They look after their families. They sacrifice for their children, and their grandchildren. They aren't seeking the limelight. All they try to do is do the right thing."
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Born in 1922 in Kansas, Madelyn lived through the Great Depression and two world wars. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, her husband Stanley Dunham enlisted the next day and served in Europe in General George S. Patton's Army. On the home front, Madelyn cared for Barack's mother Stanley Ann and became one of the 6 million women who answered the call to serve their country. She inspected B-29 aircraft for Boeing in Wichita.
With the passing of Madelyn, I was reminded of the extraordinary women I met while producing "War Stories: The Women of World War II." Whether working on the home front or overseas, there is no question that the contribution women made will never be forgotten.
Of the 2.5 million women who worked on the home front in the defense industry, there was Phyllis Gould who was 20-years-old when she was hired as one of the first welders at the Henry Kaiser shipyard in Richmond, California. Her younger sister Marian Souza joined her at the shipyard as a draftsman and their mother was hired as a painter.
Then there was Lourelei Prior from Fort Wayne, Indiana. She hoped to join the Marines, but built airplane parts at a General Electric plant instead. She said, "I felt really good that I was doing something for our country."
Also on the home front in Indiana was Dottie Collins, the star pitcher for the Fort Wayne Daisies, a team in the All American Girls Baseball League. The emergency wartime league started when it seemed American baseball was doomed by the draft. Dottie became an inspiration for the movie "A League of Their Own." She talked about how hard it was to hang up her glove and go back to being a housewife after the war ended.
I also met inspiring women who served in the Armed Forces during World War II. There was Women's Auxiliary Army "Wac" Victoria Wukitsch from Allentown, Pennsylvania. Her brothers were unable to serve so she said to her mother, "I'm gonna join. Let me take the place of the boys in the service. So that's what I did." Twenty-three-year-old First Sergeant Wukitsch was shipped overseas to the Pacific to work at the Signal Corps headquarters in the hot jungles of New Guinea. There she met her husband an Army Sergeant, also from Allentown. Victoria traveled halfway around the world to meet the boy next door.
The Army Air Corp was the only branch of the military during World War II that did not officially accept women into its ranks. But with a shortage of male pilots, it contracted civilian females to ferry planes from manufacturers to military bases around the country. They were the Women Air Force Service Pilots or "WASP." Two pilots I had the pleasure of meeting were Lorraine Rogers and Toby Felker who trained together in Sweetwater, Texas. Toby liked flying B-25s the best and one of Lorraine's proudest moments was when General Hap Arnold pinned her wings on her uniform.
The women of World War II paved the way for female generations to come. Today we take it for granted that women work and serve in every branch our military. There are more than 200,000 women in the military and 1.7 million female veterans. I was deeply moved deeply by their stories and will never forget them. Their "we can do it" spirit proved that "yes we can!"
Cyd Upson is a senior producer for "War Stories"