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wilbur photo

Montezuma Red. Elizabeth Arden created the color for a line of cosmetics on request of the US Marine Corps for the women’s reserve unit during World War II. After all, if women were going to be in the Marines and wear the Marine uniform with red piping on the cap and red chevrons on their sleeves, the color on their lips and nails had better match.

Helen Roderick Wilbur occasionally wears the same deep red today. She is in her nineties—yes, I think she’ll forgive me for disclosing her age. She has every reason to be proud of her age and her life. We met five years ago, when my father singled her out from the table of six women who lived in the same senior living facility as he did.

You couldn’t miss Helen, there’s something about the way she sits or stands or walks, or perhaps just her carries herself. You know instantly she has a story to tell. Helen was once a Marine, in fact, she was one of the first women to join the Women’s Marine Corps. She served in the new Corps’ first platoon at Camp Elliot and Camp Pendleton in California until November 1945.

Helen “answered the call,” perhaps not as heroically as you might imagine, but in her own inimitable way. The way she tells the story, she and a friend were celebrating her birthday at a popular lunch spot in San Francisco. The two ladies had enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine and were feeling a bit light-headed as they sauntered out the door after lunch. Across the street, they spied the recruiting office, glanced at the poster of the handsome man in full Marine dress and, without a second thought, walked in and signed their names. The rest, as they say, is history.

Helen never regretted her decision, quite the contrary, she was as convinced of what she wanted to do and what the right thing to do was in those days in the 1940s as she is today. She has no regrets.


Helen Roderick Wilbur is one of ten individuals I met and interviewed for my book Into the Light of Day, a collection of short stories. I invite you to read more about her and the other fascinating people whose stories I wanted to bring to light. The book is available through Amazon online in paperback or ebook format at: Into the Light of Day