FRANCESTOWN — During World War II, Sirkka Holm could have remained in the United States with other girls her age and waited for the boys to come home, but troubled by Hitler's brutality and anxious to help the troops, Holm joined the WACs and spent some terrifying years in Europe.
Holm, 93, recently shared her stories of World War II with videographer Hilary Weisman Graham, creating a DVD to raise funds for the George Holmes Bixby Memorial Library in Francestown, according to organizer Elizabeth Hunter Lavallee.
Born Sirkka Tuomi to Finnish immigrants who met after arriving in the United States, Holm grew up all over the Northeast. Her father was a miner who escaped three mine collapses in the iron ore mines of Pennsylvania, came to New England to work in the granite quarries, and then finally settled in Baltimore, working for Bethlehem Steel.
Holm's parents were deeply involved in the theater, which was central to life in the Finnish communities where they lived, and she had set her sights on becoming an actress. But when Adolf Hitler began his ascent to power in 1933, Holm and her family watched closely, fearful of his brutality and what it would do to Europe.
"I read about Hitler and the awful torture people went through under him," said Holm.
But it wasn't just Europe that bothered Holm as a young teenager, watching the world change.
"When Japan invaded Manchuria in 1930, I was 10 years old," she said. "My mother made me stop buying things at Woolworth's because they were made by the Japanese. She told me to remember 'all those Manchurian people, including little girls like you, who had been killed.'"
Pearl Harbor bombed
When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, Holm didn't hesitate to help. She enlisted to answer phone calls from "watchers," people stationed along the coast to count planes as they flew over. She worked the 2 to 4 a.m. shift despite the difficulty catching a streetcar so early in the morning. But she wanted to do more, so she joined the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. The mission of the first iteration of WAACs was to replace the men in military offices so that they could fight overseas. But a few months after Holm enlisted, the WAACs abandoned the auxiliary function and became a part of the Army itself, its name shorted to WACs, or Women's Army Corps.
Voyage to Europe
With the WACs, Holm endured boot camp, watched wounded men from the African and Italian fronts come into a hospital in North Carolina, and suffered dirty looks from housewives who thought it was improper for a woman to be in uniform. Undaunted by all of it, Holm agreed to travel to Europe aboard the harshly retrofitted Queen Mary — there were 15,000 troops aboard the ship, but lifeboats only for around 800, she said.
While living in a horse stable in England, Holm experienced her first bombing, but didn't realize it until it was over.
"I wrapped my head in blankets at night because I was afraid of the rats," she said. "When the bombs came, everyone else woke up, but I slept through it."
Holm witnessed the devastation in London inflicted by the Germans as she worked for the Army Signal Corps, ensuring that men on the front lines had the communications equipment they needed as they prepared for the D-Day invasion, which Holm only knew about after it happened and stories appeared in the paper. Five days after the invasion, Holm traveled to Normandy to continue her work, taking requests for equipment from runners on the front lines in Saint-Lo, France, and sending them to the depots in Scotland to be filled.
Following her stint near Normandy, Holm eventually made her way to Paris, where she survived a bitterly cold winter in the liberated city as the Allies pushed the Nazis from the West and the Russians barged in from the East, finally toppling the German war machine forever.
In the video made for the library, Holm shares many of the details of her experiences in Europe, from bombs and doodlebugs to dysentery and a leader named "Killer Kane."
Copies of the video can be purchased at the library or by visiting www.francestown-nh.gov/pages/francestownnh_library/index. For more information call 547-2730.