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Mary Chaney Hatke

Not Your Typical Marine

World War II poster: Join the U.S. Marine CorpsDuring World War II, the entire nation participated in the war effort through military service, by working in factories supplying the troops, by enduring rationing of scarce products, or by purchasing war bonds to provide funds for the war effort. Many Kansans have unique stories to tell about their experiences.

Mary Chaney (later Hatke) of Topeka served in the U. S. Marine Corps during WWII. Her motivation for enlisting was somewhat unique. Her family had a long history in the U.S. and members of the family had served in every conflict since the Revolutionary War. However, there were no males in her immediate family or among her generation of cousins and she was not married. Hatke said she felt compelled to represent her family to carry on their patriotic tradition.

When she was considering in which branch to enlist, she heard that the commandant of the Marine Corps said that they would accept women as actual Marines, that they would not be an auxiliary force. Thus, she chose the Marines. At the time Hatke enlisted, female Marines had to have three letters of reference. Harry Colmery, Henry Bubb, and District Judge Dean McElheny wrote letters on her behalf. Harry Colmery, who is credited with authoring the G. I. Bill of Rights after WWII, wrote Hatke two letters while she was in training. He offered her encouragement, writing that though things seemed hard, he knew she would be able to succeed. Hatke fondly remembers this kindness from a man she regarded as a family friend.

She was sworn into the Marines in Kansas City in early March 1942 and left for training at Hunter College, Bronx, New York, five days after she was sworn in. The approximately 500 female recruits lived in stripped down apartment houses that had been turned into barracks. Hatke felt that the Marines weren't really ready for their female recruits so they spent a lot of time marching in formation. They also learned how to salute, Marine Corps regulations, and military protocol. Elizabeth Arden talked to the women, offering advise on wearing only light makeup. She developed a lipstick color named Marine Red. The female Marines could wear no jewelry except wedding rings.

Imagine Hatke's surprise when she arrived at Hunter College and learned that her commanding officer was Robert Reynolds, from Topeka. Both Hatke and Reynolds had graduated from Topeka High School in 1936, where Reynolds had served as the president of the senior class. They had known each other since kindergarten.

Their training lasted six weeks and it wasn't until the end of their training that they finally received their uniforms, which were designed by Lord and Taylor department stores. Hatke remembers that the uniforms arrived the day before Easter and that they were given liberty until 6 p.m. on Easter Day. The Protestant recruits attended services at Cathedral of St. John the Divine and the Catholics went to St. Patrick's Cathedral.

The day after Easter, Hatke was sent to her duty post, the paymaster's office in Washington, D. C. At that time everyone was paid in cash. Many Marines had some of their pay go to insurance, war bonds, bank accounts at home, or to family members such as wives or mothers. Hatke's job was to see that these various amounts got to the right person or was credited to the right account for each Marine.

Hatke served all of her four years in the Marines in Washington, D. C. She and three other female Marines rented a house in Virginia. She and another friend later rented an apartment in the house of a Washington, D. C., policeman. Marines living off of a military base received "subsistence and quarters." Hatke felt she and her friends were allowed to do this because they were older than most of the recruits, who were 18 and 19 years old. Cars were scarce so they used buses to go to and from work.

While living in Washington, Hatke met her future husband, Roy Hatke. She went to lunch with a friend who wanted her to meet Roy who was from Sabetha, Kansas. Roy had been serving with the First and later the Sixth Marine Division on Guadalcanal. For Mary it was love at first sight because she wrote her father, Walter Chaney, after the first lunch that she would marry Roy if he asked her. She felt she knew him because he also was from Kansas. Her father wrote back "I know you are homesick but please don't marry the first man from Kansas that you meet." However they were married on October 17, 1946, three months after they met. Both were still in the Marines but were soon discharged.

Before they were married, they had decided that they wanted to come back to Kansas and they settled in Topeka. Roy worked for the city of Topeka initially but decided he wanted to go to Washburn University to major in art. He applied for benefits under the G. I. Bill and received $125 per month plus books and tuition. In addition to going to school during the day, Roy worked at a drug store at night. He eventually opened the Roy Hatke Art Store with an art gallery in Brookwood and a store downtown.

In thinking about the impact her military service had on her, Mary felt it helped instill orderliness and attention to schedules and detail in her. She also felt that the male Marines resented the "full status" given the early female recruits but that the Marine Corps League in Topeka has been very supportive over the years. Of course, the most lasting impact of her service was meeting her husband. She found life in Washington, D. C., exciting, getting to see various celebrities such as Douglas Fairbanks, the Marines who placed the flag at Iwo Jima, Harry Truman, and Dwight Eisenhower while she was there. However, she said she has never regretted coming home because she loves Kansas.

Entry: Hatke, Mary Chaney

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: November 2004

Date Modified: March 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.