GRADUATION DAY! No more homework! No more exams! It’s January 25, 1946 and Betty is graduating Central High School mid-term because she was out sick for part of her junior year and the time must be made up.
This bright, energetic young woman sees the U.S. Women’s Army Corps as her best option for training, travel and a regular paycheck. She enlists. After basic training and specialty training as a medical technician, Betty is transferred to Ft. Lee, Virginia. Working under an affable physician who thinks that WAC women are the best thing about the Army, Private Betty Winter settled into her routine as the new medical technician working sick call.
As word got around about the pretty girl giving out pills and solace over at the hospital, there was a significant increase in the number of soldiers complaining of minor illnesses. Betty says that she quickly learned how to deal with malingerers. One glance at the large hypodermic syringe with a five-inch needle ominously attached was usually enough to discourage everyone except men who had a legitimate reason to see this attractive medic.
Despite the serious nature of the hospital environment, a birthday cake on everybody’s special day from the generous “Captain Bob” helped to maintain high morale on the unit. Captain Bob would play an important role in the formation of Betty’s working life.
A year or so later, now assigned duty at Fort Lewis, Washington, Betty met a man. Jack was an Army Air Corps Sergeant. The two hit it off and eventually married. At first, everything seemed to go well, but soon it was clear that Jack had a drinking problem. With heavy drinking came mental and physical abuse. Finally, in the late 60s, Jack took off, never to be heard of again. Betty filed for divorce. The good news is that the marriage produced four healthy, handsome sons.
Now, the single mother of four children, Betty struggled desperately. Finally, she moved the family back to St. Louis to live with her parents. She worked numerous jobs until good fortune appeared in the form of Al Cooper. Al was a respected man who had a good job at the Fischer Body plant. He lived on a hundred beautiful acres that the kids liked to call the farm. They had a big garden and raised chickens and pigs. Al and Betty married in 1963. Betty and her four sons would enjoy fifteen years with this kind and generous man. Al passed in 1978.
In 1964, Grandpa Winter passed away and the family moved back to North County to assist Grandmother. The boys attended McCluer High School. The best thing was Betty’s new job as an accounting clerk at Crown Zellerbach. In 1965, Betty was hired by McDonald Douglas Aircraft Company where she excelled and prospered for twenty-five years.
As Betty and her son John shared details about their lives, it occurred to me that this is a true military family, starting with Betty’s grandfather who served in WWI. John Winter, Betty’s brother, is an Air Force veteran and Al Cooper was a Petty Officer First Class in the Navy and the Naval Reserve. Grandson Kelly distinguished himself as a Navy Seal.
Betty’s four sons served (and one is still serving) their Country honorably and with distinction. John, the eldest, enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1967. He put his mechanical and technical skills to work as a helicopter crew chief. Patrick, who passed in 2016, fought valiantly in Vietnam. Michael served the Navy and the Country as an engineer on nuclear submarines and later, he was an engineer in the development of the Calloway County Nuclear Plant.
Walter enlisted in the Army in 1970. He completed one enlistment and reentered the Army for helicopter training. Currently, he is a career officer holding the rank of Warrant Officer-3. In addition to obtaining necessary helicopter qualifications, Walter also earned the Army equivalent of a civilian commercial pilot license plus instrument, multiengine and airline transport ratings. He holds an instrument instructor rating, as well as several aircraft type ratings.
In 1967, Betty joined the Women’s Auxiliary of the American Legion. For years, she worked for the causes that the Legion supports. She was available when she was asked to do a job and she stayed with the job or project until it was completed. There was never a call for help that was too large or too small for Betty to gladly undertake.
In 1972, Betty was elected President of the American Legion, Post #1, Women’s Auxiliary, Districts 11 and 12. In 1999, Betty was installed as the Chapeau (leader) of the Eight and Forty Society of the American Legion.
Ms. Clover graciously explained that the focus of the American Legion and the Auxiliary is to provide services and other assistance aimed at improving veterans’ lives. One area in which veterans often need guidance is applying for and receiving the maximum benefits for which he or she may be eligible. The American Legion is also able to refer veterans to a wide range of agencies and services that may be helpful to a veteran and his or her family.
American Legion posts and Auxiliary organizations are always conducting fund raisers like bingo, bake sales, auctions and other popular events to raise money for community concerns like our special needs children and other worthy projects. In the summer, there’s usually a baseball team and tournaments for fun and friendly competition.
One of the most important beneficiaries of American Legion Auxiliary funding is the Girls’ State Project. For one week, qualified high school senior girls learn about democracy at the very seat of Missouri Government – The Missouri State Capitol. For years, Betty was the principal driver for these young women and their sponsors. She likes to say that, after a few years, the car had made so many Girls’ State trips that all you had to do was start the motor and say “JEFFERSON CITY” and the car would take you straight to your destination.
In 2004, Ms. Betty had a heart attack. Almost immediately thereafter, she suffered a stroke. Betty tried two nursing homes, but she wasn’t happy with either. Then, her doctor suggested the Missouri Veterans Home – St. Louis. Betty became a resident in 2007.
Two special events have been cause for celebration since Betty’s arrival. In 2009, son John became Commander of Post #1, American Legion and Betty was installed again as President of the American Legion, Post #1, Women’s Auxiliary, Districts 11 and 12. The impressive ceremony was conducted here at the Missouri Veterans Home with the past National Commander of the American Legion officiating.
In 2012, Betty Clover was chosen to participate in the Honor Flight to Washington D.C. On this wonderful trip, Betty and other participants were escorted by military personnel to all of the ceremonies and to see many of our Country’s most important and cherished historical sites.
At the close of our visit, I asked Betty what she feels is the most valuable part of her life in this community of veterans. She was quick to answer: “Its family. We’re all part of one big, loving family!” Ms. Betty, we love you too. We are glad that you choose to make your home with us.
Thank you for your many gifts of service!