Friday, May 22, 2015

The Rabbit Hole

I don't know if it's the sickness or what, but the last couple of days, instead of doing my usual research for posts here, I've been practically obsessed with this photograph.

I found it on Pinterest, which is filled with similar images with a short caption, just enough to give you some info, but not enough to do much with. In this case, the caption is:
"Sue J. Roller was the 1st WAC to hold the rank of Master Sgt. at Fort Benning, Georgia on 14 July 1944. U.S. Army Signal Corps photograph, Gift in Memory of Maurice T. White, from The Digital Collections of the National WWII Museum, 2011.065.1486"
It's an image that was original found on the National WWII Museum's digital collection.

My search started, naturally, with a simple name search online, which brought up a couple of old newspaper clippings of the same story recounting how she was the first non-com personnel to serve as a Master Sergeant, and that she'd enlisted in the WAACs early in the war.

The text, from the July 27, 1944 Elmira Star-Gazette, reads:
Top Non-Com Wac. After 17 months in the Women's Army Corps, M-Sgt. Sue J. Roller, stationed at Fort Benning, Ga., attained the top rating possible for a non-commissioned officer. She heads the grade-reports section of the Infantry School, and all-WAC section.
OK, so that's something. But not much. Where is she from? What's her story? I kept looking. Then I found this fascinating piece in the Ukrainian Weekly, WACs with the Infantry School [PDF].
The progress of all students at The Infantry School, including that of the officer candidates, is recorded in the grade records section at TIS headquarters. Here, Master Sergeant Sue Roller, of 2511 Pike Avenue, Little Rock, Arkansas, is in charge of an all-WAC staff, the work of which is confidential.

Sergeant Roller, formerly an assistant office manager in an ordnance plant in Arkansas and one of the few master sergeants with cute dimples, joined up, when the WAC was the WAAC, on December 23, 1942. No one at the school ever wheedles information as to his grades from the Wacs who work with Sgt Roller.
She's from Arkansas! That's a good piece of information. From there, I found that in 1938 she married Arthur F. Roller, also from Arkansas. Strangely, in 1940 they show up in Los Angeles for the census. I wonder why? Was this related to the Great Depression? How long did they stay there? It can't have been too long if she was back in Arkansas working in an ordnance plant.

I see that her husband had a child, who had his own children. But is he her child as well? There are no available records, since some of these people are still living.

But not her. There are few records of Sue Jane Roller aside from these above. But there is a Sue Dorher (her maiden name) buried alongside her parents in a small cemetery in a small town in Arkansas. Leaving me with plenty more questions. Her tombstone only has her name and her birth date.

I can't explain my fascination with learning more about her life. I guess part of it has to do with the paucity of information included in this one snap shot, and the mystery of there being so very little info about her.

Did she divorce Arthur? Is she the mother of his child? When did she die? What happened to that smart Master Sergeant with the "cute dimples" in the photo above? Is her story lost to history? Does it matter?

I don't know if I'll keep researching once I'm over this sickness. But for the last couple of days, thoughts of Sue Jane Dorher Roller have been keeping me company while I doze off and on. I hope she was proud of her achievement, brief though it may have been.


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