Annabelle Weiss - The Heart and Soul of a Marine
Don’t let Annabelle Weiss’s petite stature fool you. Inside this delicate 90-year-old is the heart and soul of a Marine. Almost 70 years after the end of World War II, the pride she bears from serving in the U.S. Marine Corps is still strong.
The day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States declared war on Japan; two days later, Germany and Italy issued their own declarations of war against America; the country was now fully engaged in the global conflict of World War II.
Four of Weiss’s cousins enlisted in the armed forces. “I wanted to go too,” she says, “because our country was at war. I was very patriotic.”
To do what she could to help the war effort, Weiss quit college to go to work. She got a job at Sperry Corporation, a defense contractor that made advanced aircraft navigation equipment at its plant in Brooklyn, NY. “And because I was smart, I was made a supervisor – at 18 years old,” she laughs.
But she wanted to do more. In 1943, the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve was established. Weiss recalls thinking, “The Marine Corps looked like they were doing a great job. They’re tough people.” At the time, the Women’s Reserve slogan was “free a Marine to fight.”
“I said, ‘That’s wonderful; I will do that,’” so she went down to the recruiting office in New York City to enlist. However, the Women’s Reserve required women to be at least 20 years old before they could join and had to have their parents’ permission.
By working at Sperry, though, Weiss held what was considered a vital defense job, and she was “frozen” in her position – that meant she could not enlist. She told her boss that she was quitting so she could “unfreeze” herself, and for the next six months she worked at a series of retail jobs until she turned 20.
With her parents’ consent, Weiss finally signed the papers to join the Marine Corps. “Dad was gung-ho, but Mom was not. She was worried.” Women in the Marine Corps were not posted overseas, with the exception of volunteers to serve in the Philippines, so Weiss assured her mother that she would not sign up for anything like that.
In April 1944, Weiss reported for duty at Camp Lejeune, N.C., for “boot camp.” “It was awful,” she laughs, “but I made it.” At Camp Lejeune, she was given the job of inspecting plane engines, but unfortunately, she had a reaction to cosmoline, a corrosion preventative that was used to coat equipment for sea voyages. “I broke out in boils,” she remembers. Because her case was severe, X-rays were used in her treatment. Unfortunately, the dosages were so high that it would affect her health for the rest of her life.
After Camp Lejeune, Weiss was reassigned to Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., and joined the transportation unit, where she learned to drive. “The driving test was so strenuous,” she says. “On the seat next to you was a box filled with individual jars. The jars had to remain upright and separate to pass the test. I passed.”
Although she was taught to drive everything from a jeep to large trucks, Weiss’s primary role was to chauffer the base’s commanding officer. He would sit in front with her, and she always enjoyed when people would salute the car.
With the victory in Japan in 1945, the demobilization of the armed forces began. Weiss was discharged in 1946.
While she was stationed at Cherry Point, Weiss met her future husband, who was also a Marine. As she relates, he knew he would marry her from the start. He was discharged before she was, so he looked up her family and introduced himself. They were married shortly after and had a daughter.
“We lived in the Bronx, and we both worked,” she says (they eventually moved to Lindenhurst). She was doing office work but decided “I wanted more,” so she became an LPN (licensed practical nurse), while taking courses at night to become a registered nurse.
After a few years of working at the VA in New York, Weiss decided to specialize in psychiatric nursing, and worked at Pilgrim Psychiatric Center in Brentwood, N.Y., and later South Oaks Hospital in Amityville, often in locked wards with violent patients. She never was hurt, she says. “I was a good nurse and had wonderful staff.” Eventually, Weiss earned her master’s degree in nursing, but stopped short of getting her Ph.D.
An independent woman
In her 30s, Weiss began to experience health problems stemming from her radiation treatment in the Marine Corps. She was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, which was successfully treated, but she eventually developed bone and spinal problems.
She had learned from her father the importance of being independent, and coupled with her Marine training, she continued to forge ahead. When she could no longer work as a nurse, Weiss began a new career as a medical biller. “I knew the codes,” she says, from working in hospitals for so many years, and she continued to work until she was 85 years old.
However, she was in constant pain and becoming more disheartened and isolated because her pain management was not working. “I was finding myself lonely and losing confidence,” she says. “I started thinking about dying.”
Although she had seen service dog graduations, “I was ignorant,” she says. The more she learned about them, though, the more she thought, maybe that would be right for me.
Weiss put in her application to America’s VetDogs because of its commitment to veterans, and visited the campus in Smithtown.
VetDogs serves veterans of all eras, so in one service dog class, it’s not surprising to find veterans ranging in age from 20 to 80-plus. “We’re all brothers,” Weiss says. She was invited to join a service dog class in October 2013. “I was positive I was going to fail,” she laughs, but Ken Kirsch, service dog program manager, remarks, “Annabelle was one of the most diligent students we’ve ever had.”
She didn’t want a big dog, she says, because she is so tiny, but when she met Joe, her “gentle giant,” Weiss says, “I fell right in love with him.” She had developed balance issues, but now, “My balance has improved.” Joe has been trained to brace when Weiss needs to get up from a chair and has been trained to bring items such as a phone or her cane; he can also open her dresser drawers.
With Joe, “I want to go out more than I did before. He goes every place with me,” Weiss says. “I became an individual again when I teamed with my dog. I came back to Annabelle.”