The Lasting Legacy of a Fearless Mother

I miss my mom. It’s a little surprising to me that I miss her more today than I did in the first few years after her death. Maybe it’s because I began to mourn her passing a few years before she passed. Or perhaps it’s because as I approach 60 and reflect on my own life, I have a greater appreciation of my mother’s love and guidance. Mom was fearless, selfless, and always optimistic.

Ruth in uniform on far right with her mom, Carrie and 4 sisters. From left: Esther, Evelyn, Estelle, Carrie, Doris Jean and Ruth

Ruth in uniform on far right with her mom, Carrie and 4 sisters. From left: Esther, Evelyn, Estelle, Carrie, Doris Jean and Ruth

Ruth Louise Swearman was born April 10th,1922, in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. Her father passed away unexpectedly at age 40 while working in the coal mines. Mom was only 12 years old, the youngest of four girls, at the time of his death. Five days after his funeral, a fifth daughter, Doris Jean, was born.

My Grandmother, Carrie, was incredibly resourceful. As a homemaker in the 1930s, her skillset lay in cooking, cleaning, and sewing. Carrie went to work cooking and sewing, and the older daughters took jobs at a local restaurant. They were very poor. Mom told me a story about her favorite Christmas as a child. The five sisters all received several pieces of fruit as their Christmas gift. Mom said they were so thrilled because they knew that for at least a few nights they would not go to bed hungry.

The two-story house where Mom’s family lived had an outhouse as the bathroom, and their home was heated by a first-floor fireplace. Food came from what they could grow, scraps from the local butcher, and donations from their family and church family.

While my sisters and I were growing up, Mom often said the saying, “Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without.” I completely understand she was sharing her wisdom on how to appreciate and take care of what you have and to not be wasteful. In Mom’s lifetime, she recycled everything! Cloth flour sacks and “old” worn out dresses became “new” dresses and quilts.

Ruth is all smiles at her 81st birthday celebration!

Ruth is all smiles at her 81st birthday celebration!

My Mom and Dad met while they were in high school and got married New Year’s day 1940. Dad enlisted in the Army, and after Infantry training at Fort Benning, Georgia, he was stationed in Iran as a railroad engineer delivering supplies to the troops.

Ruth enlisted in The Women’s Army Corps in New York City on February 10, 1944. She completed basic training at Fort Oglethorpe, Ga. On November 19, 1944, Mom boarded the SS Monterey out of San Francisco for her assignment in the Office of Theater Censor in Hollandia, New Guinea. After a brief stint on Biak, she was transferred to the Philippine island of Leyte. From Leyte, Mom went to Manilla, where she worked in the Counter Intelligence Corps. One of her responsibilities was to read the letters the troops were sending back home.

After the war, Mom lived in Occupied Japan and served as a liaison to the War Department.

Ruth was a decorated WWII veteran. Her awards include the Good Conduct Medal, four Bronze Stars, the Asiatic-Pacific Service Medal, the Philippine Liberation Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal. Mom rarely talked about her time as a W.A.C., but I know she never regretted serving our country.

Her favorite song was The Andrew Sisters 1941 hit “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”   

Ruth’s civilian service after the war took her to Washington, D.C., where she worked in the Adjutant General’s Office, the Secret and Confidential Files Section, and then to Newark, N.J., to work for the Benefits and Communication Branch.           

Mom instilled in me the importance to stand for freedom and justice. I’m certain my mother’s love of country, and her sacrifice to our nation inspired me to join the Air Force. My mom was a member of the Greatest Generation.

Love from home. Ruth penned this letter to Carla while she was in Air Force basic training in 1983.

Love from home. Ruth penned this letter to Carla while she was in Air Force basic training in 1983.

After the war, Mom and Dad settled in Youngstown, Ohio. Both of my parents enrolled in Youngstown State and worked very hard to make a better life for themselves.             

I was born in 1962. As I was growing up, I never heard stories about my parent’s time in service. They just didn’t talk about themselves. We did hear stories about how school children in their day had to walk to school in two feet of snow, and how families in their hometowns coped with The Great Depression.     

Mom always said I could be anything I ever wanted to be. She encouraged me to be independent and adventuresome. Because of the woman my mother was, I am confident and have common sense. Because of her, I have a sense of adventure. Whenever mom and I would go somewhere, we always took a different path home. Sometimes we got so far off the beaten path we used the sun to figure out how to get back to civilization!

In my youth Mom always offered these words of advice:

“No one wants to be around a sourpuss” and when I felt defeated Mom would say “pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and pull yourself up by your bootstraps!”

Mom also said that trust is the most important element in any relationship. She said that without trust there is no relationship.

I miss my mom. Ruth was my mentor, my moral compass, and my champion in all things positive. I miss my mom more than I ever thought I would.