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Virginia Lee Gleason Norton
Marine Corps Women’s Reserve
Profile by Adiba Rehman
Virginia Lee Gleason Norton lived in Chandler from 1926 to 1950. She was born in Phoenix on September 26, 1923 and moved to Chandler three years later when her parents purchased property there. Her parents, Emma Lou and Fred Daniel Gleason, had three more children, Dorothy, Barbara and Fred.
Virginia attended Chandler Elementary School and graduated from Coolidge High School in 1941. She enrolled in Arizona State Teachers College in Tempe, Arizona. During the summer months she did general, clerical office work. Virginia remembers hearing about the bombing of Pearl Harbor on her way home from a church youth group meeting. She immediately became inspired to do her part for the war effort. At the Teachers College she worked with the Red Cross. As soon as she received her degree in Home Economics, she decided to go into military service.
On the 15th of March in 1945, she enlisted in the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. She remembered hearing and seeing a lot of publicity for the Women’s Reserve. They advertised the need for women to help “free a man to fight.” The initial enlistment period was for six months. She trained at Camp Le Jeune in North Carolina and enjoyed the physical training, the exercises and the marching. “It was an experience that I am truly glad I had,” she said. In May she began active duty at Henderson Hall in Arlington, Virginia, where all Women Marines were billeted. She writes, “ I remember the D.C. area seemed totally gloomy and gray after living in sunny Arizona, but when spring came and the cherry trees blossomed, all that changed.”
She lived in temporary barracks on the grounds of the National Cemetery. Bunk beds in a large dormitory room with gang showers were a rather new experience for her, but she enjoyed the camaraderie of her friends. Her duties as an assistant cook varied. Some days she grilled and baked, while on other days she cleaned coffee pots or cooked vegetables. She described the food as very good-- “nothing fancy, but nutritious and adequate.” They wore two sets of uniforms: woolen for winter and seersucker for summer.
Virginia was honorably discharged as Corporal on July 3, 1946. She received an Honorable Service Lapel Pin at the time. She enlisted in the Reserves for three more years. Utilizing her G.I. Bill, she earned a Master’s Degree in Home Economics from Arizona State Teachers College in 1951, and went on to become a teacher. Upon graduation, Virginia left Chandler to teach in Benson, Arizona for a couple of years. She came back to Phoenix and served as the Home Economics coordinator for the school district, and also taught part-time at North Phoenix High School until 1959.
On October 23, 1959, she married T. Dayle Norton in Phoenix, and moved with him to the Panama Canal Zone, where he worked. She taught there from 1959 to 1977, when they both retired and moved to Florida. Virginia stated that she was proud to be in the Service. She changed from a shy person to an outgoing one, with more courage to travel and explore. Thus it gave her a broader outlook on life, and made her appreciative of her country.