Our Elderly Residents
Veteran reflects on her service during World War II
Seventy-two years have passed since Margery Durand joined the U.S. Army, and the memory is as clear in her mind as ever.
And at 92 years of age, that may be considered remarkable.
Durand, a resident at Springfield Housing Authority’s Jennie Lane Apartments, grew up in a West Virginia area so rural, it lacked a town name. Her family subsisted on a small farm where eggs, milk, butter and corn were traded for sick visits to a local doctor. Going to school meant walking several miles, with lunch in tow.
“We lived in a little shack, that was it,” she recalled. “Back in those days, people were poor, and I mean poor.”
“We had no electricity, no running water, nothing but the food we grew and the animals we kept. We’d trade for anything else we needed. That’s how it went back then,” she said.
Durand’s story is neither remarkable – she was never in combat – nor unusual for the 350,000 women who joined in the United States World War II effort. Like the others, she had to wait until age 20 to join, and she did not see combat. Instead, she worked at a military post office in Baltimore for 16 months, starting in 1944, ensuring that the voluminous packages made the journey from stateside to the European and African theaters as the fighting intensified.
But it is precious to her, as it paved the way for a husband she would meet, a move to Springfield, and a family of four children. In essence, it is the story of the beginning of her adult life.
“I wanted to do something interesting with my life,” she said. “I wanted some excitement, an adventure.”
Indeed, that is more or less what she got.
Durand had left home after graduating high school in 1942 to work at an airplane manufacturing facility in Baltimore. Her job was drilling holes for screws in airplane parts, and she left because she didn’t like standing up all day.
But she still yearned for more than life on the family farm.
“I heard women could go into the service, and I knew right away I wanted to do that,” she said. “As soon as I was 20, I signed up.”
Her basic training was at Fort Des Moines in Iowa, and she was assigned after that to Fort George G. Meade in Maryland. Before she got her official order for duty, she and some of her fellow WACs went together to a mixer, a dance that included service men as well as women.
It was there that she first set eyes on the man she would marry – Rene Durand, a native of none other than Springfield, Massachusetts.
“I saw him from across the room, and right away there was something about him that grabbed my eyes,” she said. “I had the weirdest feeling.”
Weeks later, she was sent to work in the Army Post Office, and there he was again, this time in the role of her supervisor.
“I was so surprised. I even said, ‘There you are’ – I said that right to him. I was just struck by him. It was love at first sight,” she said.
Shortly after that, they began dating, and shortly after that, they were married. That was in 1946, when she was 22 years old.
Rene and Marge made their home in Springfield, he worked in the U.S. Post Office until retirement, and where they raised their three children. Rene died in 1989, at the age of 70, following a stroke.
Since then, she said, “I’ve fought the battle alone,” and with the help of her children, their spouses, and six grandchildren. She is especially close to her eldest grandson, who calls her daily and takes her shopping, and to appointments.
“I don’t know what I’d do without him. He’s always there for me,” she said.
This past year has been particularly rough on her physically, being injured in a fall that meant time away in a recovery facility, and dealing with painful arthritis.
Durand has been living at Jennie Lane for several years now. She’s made many friends – she is friendly and outgoing – and joins her neighbors when she can in the Community Room for events and chats.
Jessica Quinonez, who is president of the Jennie Lane Tenants Association and the resident member of the SHA Board of Commissioners, said Durand is always a cheerful presence when she joins in.
“I consider Marge a strong person, and I know this year hasn’t been easy for her. She’s so nice and funny, and she has many friends here,” Quinonez said.
So what is Durand’s secret to a long life?
Turns out there is no secret.
“You just keep on living,” she said. “There is no secret. I don’t know. I don’t think it’s anything to brag about.”
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