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All for the red, white and blue: 94-year-old veteran continues to fight to raise awareness

Dolores Mielnicki is on a mission. The 94-year-old World War II veteran believes too many women have had their service to country ignored — and she’s doing everything she can to spread the word.
“You don’t hear anything about that,” Mielnicki said of the role so many women played in past military conflicts. “And it’s something to be proud of.”
Mielnicki was one of more than a dozen local veterans honored in the Senior Center’s Jonesborough Days Parade on July 4, jauntily wearing a World War II veteran’s cap adorned with a “Women are Veterans Too!” button. (See related story, Page 1B)
But July 4 isn’t the only time this Limestone resident has waved a flag for women veterans.
“What I found out after I got out was that women were often ignored,” Mielnicki said. For example, she said, “one Sunday I was in church and the pastor was giving a history lesson on World War II. I didn’t hear a word said about a woman.”
After the service, she approached the pastor to express her displeasure. “Out of the whole congregation, I am probably the only one that actually served,” Mielnicki said she told the minister. “And he said, ‘But you’re a woman!’ ”
That wasn’t the first time she set a speaker straight. She is proud to have served in World War II and knows there are many others just like her, drawn into the conflict with a desperate desire to help make a difference.
“I was a telephone operator,” Mielnicki recalled, going back to 1941 when she was in her early 20s in Iowa. “I had worked that Sunday, working split shift. I came home and started to write a letter to a GI I’d met in Chicago. I had the radio on.”
Mielnicki paused for a moment, remembering.
“In the middle of it was the announcement of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It changed everything right there.”
She finished the letter and mailed it, though she never received an answer. “I don’t know what ever happened to him,” she said. And she thought about what she wanted to do.
Later that year, Mielnicki joined the U.S. Navy. In a way, she said, it was a dream she had thought would never be realized.
“As a kid, I did an awful lot of reading, a lot of daydreaming too,” Mielnicki said. “And I used to daydream about going into the Navy. I thought it would never happen because they weren’t taking women at that time.”
Still, she had little idea of what to expect.
“I knew they would want telephone operators. I’d been a telephone operator for five years,” Mielnicki said. “I got in there. Did they make me a telephone operator? No. They made me a radioman.”
Once enrolled in the Navy’s military school, Mielnicki was certain her Navy career was to be a short one.
“I thought I was going to flunk out of that,” she said with a chuckle. “When they started us out, they said, you have to nake your letters just so. I think I spent more time trying to figure out how they wanted me to form those letters.” Once they moved to typewriters, however, she quickly got the hang of things.
The role of a radio operator was precise, exacting and mysterious.
“Those messages all came in in code,” Mielnicki said. “You didn’t know what you were receiving. They came in groups of five. And they were all garbled up. They didn’t make words. You didn’t know if you were taking them accurately or not.”
Basically, Mielnicki and the other women in the program sent and received messages. “Sometimes we were on the teletype and sometimes we cleaned,” she said.
The abilities of women in even this military role were still in some doubt, and the rule was that a man had to be assigned to each shift.
Time and time again, Mielnicki said, she and her colleagues proved the skeptical males wrong, whether it came to receiving messages or cleaning quarters for inspection.
Mielnicki met her husband during this time of service.
“I didn’t know it, but the gal he was dating just before that was pushy to get married and he was backing off in a hurry and I ran the other way,” she said, laughing at the memory. “He kept asking me, ‘Do you love me?’ I’d say ‘Sure, just as much as ever.’ ”
Eventually he wore down her resistance and they married. Mielnicki eventually served 18 months in uniform, but as a military wife, she traveled all over, helping whenever she could.
“When my husband was in Korea, I waited in Japan, working in a battery factory,” she said. “We made batteries for walkie talkies for the military. It was sometime after that that we heard an awful lot about the ships that were built, the airplanes. But you didn’t hear about the little things. Like batteries for one.”
Service, in whatever form it takes and from whoever it is given, should always be honored, Mielnicki believes.
Today, women are receiving more credit than ever before, she said.
But, “a lot of people didn’t get credit for what they did, even the folks at home. I don’t think we would have won that war if it hadn’t been for the cooperation of everybody.”
Mielnicki’s husband, a 20-year veteran, died in 1989, but not until passing along — with the help of his wife — a love of military service to their children, and later to their grandchildren.
Mielnicki said she discovered an Aunt Hazek, who served in World War I as a nurse, so perhaps it is simply in the family.
Whatever the drive, Mielnicki will continue to speak out for forgotten veterans — and to stress to future veterans the value of a job well done.
“Do the best job you can,” she said. “You never know when someone might be watching.”