Living historians share first-hand accounts of women’s history

Washington Township High School students heard tales from women who served and lived through during World War II

Washington Township High School junior Sophia Altamuro listens as Sylvia Brugger recalls memories of World War II.

U.S. History students in Karen LaRosa’s class at Washington Township High School culminated a unit on women’s history by welcoming four residents from Washington Township Senior Living for informal conversation on the changing role of women through the decades. LaRosa’s mother, Millie Chiolo, was joined by Sylvia Brugger, Bert Deininger and Joan Slimm who spent the class period engrossed in conversation with the students.

Brugger served for three years during World War II as a stateside aviation machinist, inspecting and repairing planes for the U.S. Navy. She recounted her arrival in America at 18 months following a week-long boat ride from her native Finland. While residing in Illinois, she answered an ad in the newspaper seeking women for military service, enlisted, attended boot camp in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and passed a mechanical aptitude test that took her to mechanic school in Norman, OK, and eventually to Texas where she was responsible for everything from “propeller to rudder.” She learned that the war had ended while walking to the “chow line.”

“A loud message came over the public address system,” the 95-year-old Brugger easily recounted. “‘Now hear this, the war has now ended.’ I made it to chow, and we were hooting and hollering.”

Bert Deininger told WTHS students of her marriage at age 16 and recounted memories of family members going off to war.

Deininger remembered what her mother said to her when members of their family were being called into war.

“My mother said, ‘This is your country, and there will never be a country like this one,’” Deininger said.

Washington Township High School teacher Karen LaRosa (standing in center) and her students posed questions of Joan Slimm (left) and LaRosa’s mother, Millie Chiolo (right), during a visit on Monday.

“It was a win-win,” LaRosa said. “My students learned first-hand what it is like to grow up in my mother’s generation, what challenges they faced and how the world has changed in their lifetimes. Our visitors were happy to share their stories.”