Marble Falls, TX (PRWEB) June 21, 2012
Seventy years after she was photographed working on a navy airplane, Irma Lee Smentek saw the photo on a magazine cover and decided to tell her World War II story of life, work, tragedy, and love. Her story appears in the August 2012 issue of America in WWII magazine.
The photo is a haunting image of America’s World War II home front: A lovely young woman in white overalls carefully paints a star on the wing of a navy plane. On the bib of her overalls are her photo ID badge and a winged star with the slogan “Keep ’Em Flying.”
Back in August 1942, US Office of War Information photographer Howard R. Hollem recorded very little about the woman in that iconic photograph—only that her name was Irma Lee McElroy, that she worked at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi in Texas, and that she was married to a navy flight instructor. For 70 years, that was as much as anyone knew.
But when America in WWII magazine published the photo on the cover of its spring 2012 special issue, Home Front Life, Irma Lee (now Smentek) stepped out of anonymity to tell her story.
The first contact came from Glenn Smentek, Irma Lee’s son. He e-mailed America in WWII, saying, “It has been brought to our family’s attention that the cover of…Home Front Life is a picture of my Mother, Irma Lee (McElroy) Smentek…. She is still living and is 89 years old and wanted me to talk with someone about her.”
Irma Lee’s grandson, US Army National Guard Captain Tyler Smentek, followed up, adding “We would like for your editor to contact us and see if you could establish an interview or other discussion with this amazing couple.”
And that’s exactly what happened. America in WWII editor Carl Zebrowski arranged for an interview with Irma Lee and her husband, Bill Smentek. The interview was published in the magazine’s August 2012 issue.
“In the lead-up to the war, I was living in Corpus Christi, working as a civilian employer of the navy at the naval air station,” Irma Lee told America in WWII. “I worked in a big hangar, building and repairing aircraft wings…. I was just out of high school.”
The young “Texas country girl,” as Irma Lee described herself, soon became a bride. “I worked in that hangar for about a year and a half before I got married to Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Leroy McElroy, who was a PBY pilot instructor,” Irma Lee recounted. “We got married in 1942….”
The Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor had already dragged the United States into the war, and the next year, even though the McElroys had a son, Leroy was sent overseas. Then came tragedy: “In 1943, Leroy left for duty in Alaska, at Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands,” Irma said. “He was killed there in April….”
Irma Lee was a war widow at the young age of 21. She and her son George left Corpus Christi and moved in with her mother and sister. “That’s when I met Bill,” Irma Lee recalled. “We got married after three months, and now we are getting ready for our 67th anniversary.”
Bill Smentek, like Irma Lee’s late husband Leroy, was a flight instructor turned pilot. Bill became a US Army Air Forces pilot just as the war ended, however, so Irma Lee was spared the worry of sending him off to the Second World War. Bill went on to serve in the US Air Force in Korea and Vietnam, flying wounded US personnel back to the States. His told his story together with Irma Lee in the America in WWII interview.
Today, Irma Lee and Bill live near Marble Falls in the Texas Hill Country. They have 4 sons, 11 grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren.
The entire interview is in the August 2012 issue of America in WWII, available in digital editions for iPad, iPhone, Nook, Android devices, and Kindle Fire, and in print at Barnes & Noble and Books A Million stores. Learn more at http://www.AmericaInWWII.com. For media use, high res graphics and a PDF of the interview are available for download by contacting the publisher.
About America in WWII
America in WWII is a bimonthly magazine about the American experience in World War II, at the front and on the home front. Through its regular issues, special issues, website, and digital editions, it helps 21st-century people understand the world of World War II Americans, the “Greatest Generation.” America in WWII is a publication of 310 Publishing LLC of Harrisburg, PA.