Dorothy Grassby

Sergeant Dorothy Frances Grassby (Dwyer) April 2015

Served in WWII – October 1942 – June 1945

Dorothy enlisted in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corp later to be known as the Women’s Army Corps (WACs) in 1942. She went to Fort Des Moines, Iowa for basic
training.

In the summer of 1943, Dorothy’s unit boarded the Santa Rosa, a luxury liner that had
been converted into a troop ship. She thought she was headed to South America until she
saw the Rock of Gibraltar she then realized she was in North Africa. This ship docked at
the Mediterranean port of Oran, Algeria on August 21, 1943. Her unit then boarded a
train to Algiers.

Dorothy and seven other unassigned WACs were told they would meet General
Eisenhower. All eight WACs were assigned to General Eisenhower; who then became
their boss. The team was part of the first step in the offensive against Hitler’s European
fortress, when the Allies moved their forces into North Africa in 1943. She soon
developed a special friendship with Marianne Sheets who became a special friend for
over sixty years.

Dorothy worked in the nerve center (also known as the ‘eyes only’ program) in Algiers,
North Africa. She was told to ‘forget everything she ever saw or heard.’ As an excellent
speed typist she decoded information from Washington D.C. to General Eisenhower.

The American women drew a lot of attention in Algiers. In addition to her military duties
she participated in ceremonial roles. Dorothy carried the American flag during 1943
military reviews featuring her WAC unit. The ceremony also included soldiers from
France’s First Zouave Regiment and a French army women’s contingent.

She vividly recalls being courted by a handsome, young soldier. After receiving a dozen
red roses and going on a date their dinner was interrupted by the military police. The
soldier was arrested, as he was a German spy who slipped through the lines. He had
targeted Dorothy due to her role in the ‘eyes only’ program. Dorothy was quick to note
“he got no information from me!” After the incident two military police escorts were
assigned to Dorothy from the moment she left her barracks until she returned.

After Eisenhower moved to England to set stage for the D-day invasion, Dorothy and the
other WACs were moved to Florence, Italy. While crossing the Mediterranean, their ship
was targeted by a German U-boat. They were given the command to “man the rail with
life jackets firmly secure.” She and her traveling companions were convinced this was it.

Dorothy was not only scared that if she survived the attack she might not survive in the
water – she did not swim. Her buddies, Marianne being one, stood arm-in-arm to help her
just in case they went overboard. They were poised at the railing hearing murmurs of
soft prayers when they witnessed the “tin can” surge through the water next to the ship.

As they arrived in Naples they realized not everybody was a fortunate as them. A sunken
ship was between them and the dock. They walked on the side of the sunken ship to reach
land.

Dorothy joined the staff of General Benjamin Chidlaw, deputy-commanding general of
the 12th Tactical Air Command. Her job was to write letters home to families of people
killed or missing in action. Dorothy notes that no one letter read the same. It was a
difficult and emotional assignment. Dorothy returned to the United States where she
served the rest of her military duties at Fort Dix, New Jersey. She was offered an order to
go to the Pacific Theater of Operations or take her Honorable Discharge; she took the
latter.

Long after the war, that both Dorothy and her two brothers Roger and George Grassby
served, she has ensured that the contributions of America’s veterans are remembered. As
a long-term garden club member Dorothy served as chairwoman of the Washington
state’s Blue Star Memorial Marker program. This program places markers honoring
WWII veterans along the nation’s highways. During Dorothy’s reign her goal was to
place 50 markers throughout the state. She succeeded her goal and received national
recognition for her accomplishment by elevating the state program into the top four
leading states in the country with the most markers. This also meant that at the age of 88
she performed over 50 presentations at the Blue Star Marker installation ceremonies.

At the age of 94, Dorothy still is an active veteran. Recently being honored by the Puget
Sound Honor’s Flight program. In March 2015 Dorothy took her ‘last mission’ trip to
Washington D.C. along with 59 other WWII veterans. The veterans were recognized for
their service at the WWII memorial on the Washington mall across the street from the
White House.

Dorothy is a member of the American Legion Post 44 in Ridgefield, Washington.

Written by: MaryAnn Holbert
Daughter of Dorothy Dwyer

Sources:
“On the frontline of history.”Columbian.2009.
“Excerpts from WWII Experience.”Dwyer.2008.