News Branch Marine Corps

The oldest living US Marine celebrates her 107th birthday

Today marks the 107th birthday of the oldest living U.S. Marine: Dorothy (Schmidt) Cole.
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Today marks the 107th birthday of the oldest living U.S. Marine: Dorothy (Schmidt) Cole.

Born Sept. 19, 1913 in Warren, Pennsylvania, when Cole was 29 she enlisted in the Marines at a time when few women served in the Corps. 

“Everyone was out doing something,” Cole said in a birthday video posted to the Marine Corps’ official Twitter account. “The women helping the Red Cross, or even in churches, they were knitting things. So, I decided that I wanted to do something, and I would go into the Marine Corps.”

Initially, Cole intended to enlist in the Navy following the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. But as luck would have it (for the Marine Corps, at least) she was deemed too short for the Navy’s fitness standards.

“Originally I had chosen the Navy, but they said I was too short,” Cole told the Independent Tribune in a Sept 6 news story. “So I decided to go with the Marines. I even took flying lessons of about 200 hours, thinking it would impress the Marines. But it didn’t. They put me behind a typewriter instead of an airplane.”

After enlisting in July 1943, Cole underwent six weeks of basic training at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina with 1st Battalion, Marine Corps Women’s Reserves, according to the Independent Tribune. She served in the Marine Corps until December 1945 as a typist at a time when the military was reticent to open up career fields to women, despite being in dire need of personnel.

In 1918 Opha May Johnson became the first woman to serve in the Corps, though occupational specialties for female Marines were limited to clerical duties within certain fields. It wasn’t until February 1943, with the founding of Marine Corps Women’s Reserve that more positions became available, though female Marines remained largely restricted to administrative roles.

“The military impacted my mother’s life by making her dedicated to whatever she was doing,” Cole’s daughter, Beth Kluttz told the Independent Tribune. “When she was younger and more able, she would do anything for other people. She loves God and country and feels it is our duty to stand up and protect our country.”

UPDATE: This article has been updated with additional information regarding basic training for female Marines during World War II.