IDA GROVE, Iowa | Vera Varner said she grew up poor in Quincy, Illinois. After high school, she wasn't sure if she wanted to work her way through college.
"I was ready to get out into the world," Varner, now 84, said. "I wanted to leave home but I didn't just want to go out and find a job somewhere."
So Varner enlisted into the U.S. Air Force in October 1952.
"By going into the service, I knew I had a place to live, food to eat and clothes to wear," said Varner, who today lives in Ida Grove.
She first went into basic training in San Antonio, Texas. Then she went to Cheyenne, Wyoming, for 12 weeks of technical training to learn Air Force communication equipment like operating a switchboard and fax machines, with the ultimate goal of becoming a teletype operator.
“Today, a lot of young women are in combat and do a lot of different things. I never had an interest in that. I never touched a gun," she said. "At that time, we were doing jobs so that the men could go fight."
She was then assigned to work at the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., where she sent and received messages using teletype paper concerning military communication during the Korean War.
"I didn't know what most of (the messages) said, they were secret," Varner recalled.
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After two years Varner and her friends applied for similar communication positions in Puerto Rico. There, she worked in the communications center in the control tower at Ramey Air Force Base and met a young air/ground radio controller who had to walk through her office to get to his upstairs.
"We met and ended up getting married," Vera said of her husband, Robert.
Soon after, Vera was carrying the first of their four children.
"Once you got pregnant you had to get out" of the service, Vera said.
She was discharged and the family moved to Abilene, Texas, after Robert reenlisted in 1955 to a base where their two eldest children were born.
Robert then went to school for cryptology that took him away from the family on a year military trip to Saudi Arabia. Upon returning, the family moved multiple times and decided to step away from the military life in the 1960s. During that time, Vera worked at a drug store and grocery store before landing in Ida Grove, where the couple became local entrepreneurs.
The two owned an office supply store and Vera ran a children's clothing store. In 1989, they seized an opportunity of going in with another couple to own the Pronto gas station in town. Vera worked there for a number of years and still contributes to the operation with some monthly bookkeeping. Robert, 84, and Vera have four children, seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
"I think (military service) made me stronger and responsible for myself," Vera said. "And (it gave me) a love of my country, but I already had that, a deep love of my country."