Donnie Snow was into the details.
That much is clear in a collection of documents, photographs and ephemera on the early years of Cherry Point. The Eastern Carolina Aviation Heritage Foundation has just started cataloging all the materials.
Lois Evelyn “Donnie” Snow was in the first group of 18 Women Marines to arrive at the newly established Marine Corps air station in the thick of World War II.
Snow stepped off the train on Saturday, May, 29, 1943, at 12:08 p.m., “Just in time for lunch,” as she writes in one of her documents.
“We were called the ‘first 18.’ We were the first Woman Marines to set foot on the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point. We had no washing machine, no dryers, ironing boards but no irons. What a mess!” Snow wrote under a photo of the group. “We had to wear our wool winter uniforms until the later part of July. It was miserable. We were all Buck Privates … $50 a month! We were going to be in a crash training program for Staff NCOs. At that point there were none … just had buck privates.”
Snow, who had joined the Marines in Des Moines, Iowa, went through boot camp at the U.S. Naval Training School at Hunter College in Bronx, N.Y.
“We went through Boot Camp in civilian clothes. Uniforms were not available until a few days before we transferred out,” Snow wrote in 1993 prior to her death in 2008 at age 90. “When we first arrived, I drilled in high heels until my luggage finally arrived with my marching shoes. Talk about a ‘hot foot’ — take that times two and you know what my feet felt like (I longed for two buckets of ice water, one for each little hot foot).”
Boot camp lasted 25 days.
“However, they deftly managed to pack about 50 days of arduous and intensive training, both mental and physical, into that short period of time,” Snow wrote. “We usually had sixteen-hour workdays, six days a week.”
The training worked. Snow’s outfit, Platoon 1, 5221, had been called “the Black Sheep of the Company” but they had been drilled into perfection.
“When the WRs in Platoon 1 marched in review, they looked like puppets on a string,” Snow wrote.
While Snow was part of the first group of women on the air station, within a year there were about 3,100 at Cherry Point and its outlying air fields.
Snow became the secretary to the commanding officer for the base. After her discharge from active duty in 1946, she held that position as a civil servant through 1967. She then transferred to Fort Huachuca, Ariz., to work as a program analyst until her 1979 retirement.
Geri Weeks, of Independence, Iowa, is Snow’s niece and is the person who gathered her aunt’s papers. Weeks sent the collection to Marine Corps historian Alan Stiner, who has placed it on loan with the aviation foundation.
“It was just left to me after my mom died and I had to do something,” Weeks said. “She made five copies of everything, because that’s the way she did it in the service. That’s just the way she was trained.”
“Cherry Point was just her whole life,” Weeks said. “She loved it but she didn’t like the humidity and the hurricanes.”
Cherry Point was a swamp being turned into an airfield when Snow first arrived.
“They were bulldozing and they would come out and there would be snakes on the machinery,” Weeks said. “She had to lay on the ground with the snakes in practice air raids.”
Weeks said Snow was very dedicated.
“If she took on something she was going to do it right,” Weeks said. “She just respected her commanders. I know she had a big job all the time with the commanders, and she loved them all and respected them all.”
Beverly Stonewall, of West Des Moines, Iowa, is another of Snow’s nieces.
“She had an illustrious life,” she said of Snow. “There’s probably a lot in there that would mean a lot to some seniors who were in World War II and that were in the Cherry Point area.
“She was just a dynamic, little bitty thing, more than a little bit. She didn’t ever get to 5 feet. She was probably 4-10 or somewhere around there. She always wore three-inch heels. She wore high heels all the time. She was a tremendous woman. She was a detail person and I’m sure that shows in the collection there. She lived her life that way. You didn’t have to be around her for very long before you knew that she had been military.”
Stonewall said Snow hated to be called Lois and hated for people to refer to her height.
“If you called her Lois you were in deep trouble,” she said. “I don’t know if she chose Donnie or how it came about but you didn’t dare call her Lois. And you didn’t make reference to her tininess. She was a whole bunch of people in that little body.
“She was a tremendous woman. She was just a dynamo. She never gained a pound and she never became out of shape. She always had the service stance. When she would stand at a distance you would see the military training in the way she would stand. She loved the military and it just became part of her. She was just a Marine. She would have been a good female SEAL. That was her heart.”
George Griffin, Havelock’s first mayor in 1959, remembers Snow.
“She was a lovely person,” he said. “I’d have to say she was a good-looking Marine. She was really vibrant.”
Griffin, Will Lewis and former Cherry Point commander Tom Braaten joined Amanda Ohlensehlen in looking at the collection last week for the aviation foundation.
“I came here in 1948 and all of those Windsocks were published before I came here,” Griffin said, referring to a collection of base newspapers.
Lewis said Snow’s story of active duty followed by civil service was common in Havelock.
“I think it’s relatable to a lot of people,” he said. “So many people have that story. It’s just like their stories. This is a lady that really cared about what she did.”
Braaten called all the historic documents and photos from the early days of Cherry Point important.
“I think we’ve got a real treasure here,” he said. “The question is how to share it with the public.”