PARIS – Debra Stern is among the estimated 350,000 women who served with the U.S. Armed Services in non-combatant jobs in every theater of World War II.
The 95-year-old great grandmother was just 20 years old when she was in charge of not only driving the troops and transporting ammunition, but also of the command car. She met a lot of the men who wouldn't come back.
"I did love the Army," Stern said. "In fact, if I didn't get married and become pregnant right away, I would have gone back. I drove the great big trucks. I drove the fellas through the pier."
Stern was 18 when Congress instituted the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps, later upgraded to full military status as the Women's Army Corps. By the time she was 21 years old, there were 100,000 women in service and 6,000 of them were officers.
"It was stricter for us," Stern said. "It was harder for us because we had to prove ourselves."
Stern earned a Women's Army Corps Medal for her stellar driving. She keeps it next to a hat with decorations from the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America, the American Legion and the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
"I very rarely wear it because I outrank a lot of the men in the organization," Stern said.
Over the years, Stern has kept busy as a veteran. She also took part in helping build the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs' Calverton National Cemetery in Long Island. It was built in 1978 and is open to all members of the Armed Forces who have met a minimum active duty service requirement and were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable.
"The landing at Normandy that was a big thing," Stern said. "They fought for a cause: The cause was this country."
On that fateful day -- June 6, 1944 or D-Day -- some 160,000 Allied troops came ashore to launch Operation Overlord, the turning point in World War II when the Allied forces invaded France and pushed back the Germans.
"The whole city was wild. I know everyone was happy," Stern said. "We were happy that we were winning ... I enjoyed it. I still live it."