Madeira woman, WWII veteran reflects on her storied life

By Regina Villiers.  Originally published April 19, 2000 in The Suburban Life, added April 7, 2017.

Eunice Hehnke resigned from her job as a high school history teacher to serve in the SPAR, the women’s division of the U.S. Coast Guard in World War II, while her husband served in the Marines in the South Pacific. Recently the veteran, now Eunice Hehnke Younker, shared memories from her storied past with Regina Villiers and members of the Madeira Historical Society.

Eunice Hehnke Younker, a female veteran of World War II, was a pioneer.  She served in the U.S. Coast Guard Women’s Reserve (SPAR) in its infancy.  The SPARs, formed in 1942, numbered about 10,000 women, and Eunice was one of them.

At that time, women who joined the military services had to have an extra ounce of spirit and independence.  For the most part women were still of the stay-at-home generation and had not yet burned their bras.

But Eunice was spunky and independent.  Being in the forefront was second nature to her.  She had been a second mother to her younger siblings and already had been a Girl Scout leader.  By the time the war started, she was married and determined to do her part to help in the war and to bring her young husband home from the South Pacific.

The story of John and Eunice Hehnke reads like a tale from a romantic novel, a true love story.  They had gone through college together at River Falls State Teachers College in Wisconsin, a division of the University of Wisconsin.  All through college, they took the same classes.  After graduating together, they both became teachers and taught for three years.  John also coached sports.

Then the war started, and John enlisted in the Marines.  After officer’s training, he went to the South Pacific, in the thick of war.

Eunice knew that she’d follow John and enlist in something.  While she was casting around, a friend, a physical education teacher, joined the WAVES, Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, and had a hand in organizing the SPARs.

Eunice decided this was for her.

At the time of her enlistment, she had been teaching history for three years at Tomah High School in Wisconsin.  John was already in the South Pacific.

Eunice enlisted Dec. 20, 1943.  She was sent to the Coast Guard Academy at New London, Conn., for training.  Then she went to Palm Beach, Fla., to her post in communications.

Women in WWII were important because the work each of them did freed up a man for active duty in the war.  Women everywhere did their part and performed their roles, not only in the women’s military services but also in defense plants and essential industries.  Their work allowed men to go to war.

Eunice served in the Coast Guard almost two years.  She left the service in August 1945, after the war ended.

After the war, Eunice and John took up their lives again, together.  They decided to take advantage of the G.I. Bill, which paid college costs for veterans who returned to school to finish their educations.  They both went to Indiana University to get advanced degrees.  They lived on campus in a mobile home community, as did veterans all across the country at that time.  Every college had them.  Barracks type housing, for the veterans who crowded college campuses, sprang up everywhere.

“It was a wonderful time, a wonderful life.” Eunice said.  “There was only one thing wrong – community bathrooms.  Going to the bathroom, or showering, was a trip-outside.”

Again, she and John received degrees together, master’s degrees in business, and both changed directions in their vocations.  Eunice went into real estate, where she had a long, successful career.

They had two children.  Their son lives in South Carolina, and their daughter lives near Centerville, Ohio.

As in other areas of her life, Eunice was blessed in love and marriage.  She speaks of two happy marriages, while many people cannot talk of even one.  Several years after John died, at a relatively early age, she met and married Tim Younker, who has also passed on.  “We had 20 happy years together,” she said.

Eunice insists she’s not good with scrapbooks or saving things, but she has saved enough to fill a tabletop and to occupy days of reminiscing.  There are well-preserved newspaper clippings, telling about their lives and the times.  One clipping tells the unusual story of young love and of Eunice and John’s early years of doing everything together.

She has many beautiful photographs of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s funeral.  Eunice was honored to march in the funeral procession.  Her photographs reflect the solemnity and the sadness of this somber occasion.

Her years of service in the SPARs and her wartime experiences added an extra dimension to her life.  Eunice says she treasures the memories of that time.  “I would not take anything in exchange for the experience of it,” she said.

But she does express one regret.  She wishes she had bought some property in Palm Beach while she was stationed there.  “I could have,” she said, “if only I’d been foresighted enough.  And now, I’d be rich.”

But Eunice is  rich.  She’s rich in memories of the storied life she has lived – a life that many of us can only envy.