America’s oldest living Marine, a trailblazer for women in the service, has died at 107

"At the time, I didn't think I was doing anything great. I knew I was helping our country."

The oldest living Marine and one of the first women to enlist as a Marine Corps reservist passed away on Thursday at 107 years old.

Dorothy “Dot” Cole (originally Dorothy Schmidt) was born in Sept. 1913 in Warren, Pa, according to the Charlotte Observer. At 28 years old when she set out from her hometown to travel to Pittsburgh, with hopes of joining the Navy. But when she got there, the recruiter mentioned a problem: Cole was only 4’11” — not tall enough to meet the Navy’s standards.

So Cole picked another path and decided she would “learn to become a pilot, and persuade the Marine Corps to let her fly an airplane,” the Observer reports.

She was finally able to enlist in July 1943, around a year after President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve with the intent to “fill the gaps — left by men headed to combat — in administrative, training and supply positions” at military bases. At the time of Cole’s enlistment, she’d logged around 200 flight hours and had earned her private pilot’s license.

But still, the Observer reports, Cole was put “behind a typewriter instead” after she completed her six-week boot camp with the Women’s Reserve’s First Battalion at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

America’s oldest living Marine, a trailblazer for women in the service, has died at 107
Dorothy Cole was recognized as the oldest-living Marine in 2020. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

Cole told Military Times in September last year that she wanted to join the military after seeing other women doing what they could to help during the war.

“There were women volunteering with the Red Cross and knitting while sitting in church, so I thought I had to do something,” Cole told Military Times. “At the time, I didn’t think I was doing anything great. I knew I was helping our country.”

After her training, Cole was sent to Quantico, Va., where she typed correspondence for officers for two years. She told Military Times that it was “kind of a tough time” because most of the men weren’t welcoming to her and the other women and called them “all sorts of names.”

“But they got over it,” she said, adding that the women simply “got our work done.”

While she was still in service, Cole met her husband, Wiley Cole, who was in the Navy at the time, the Observer reports. He served on the USS Hornet before it was “torpedoed and sunk” in Oct. 1942.

Three years later, the war was over, and Dorothy Cole was discharged from the Marine Corps as a sergeant. After the war, Dorothy and Wiley moved to San Francisco, got married, and both started working at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley.

According to the Observer, Wiley died only two years later after the birth of their only daughter, Beth. Cole never remarried.

Beth told the Observer that Cole was still in good health up until she was 105, when her health “started to deteriorate.” Cole passed away at Beth’s home as the result of a heart attack, according to the Observer; she is survived by her daughter, two grandchildren, and six great grandchildren.

Haley Britzky
Haley Britzky

is the Army reporter for Task & Purpose, covering the daily happenings in the Army and how they impact soldiers and their families, as well as broader national security issues. Originally from Texas, Haley previously worked at Axios before joining Task & Purpose in January 2019. Contact the author here.

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