Author writes little-known stories of women in war

For the Monitor
Published: 7/24/2022 11:26:40 AM

With 16 tennis grand slams during the 1930s, Alice Marble was enjoying meteoric achievement akin to that of Serena Williams in the next century. But, not many were paying attention to women’s tennis in those days and, as World War II approached, Marble decided to settle down with the love of her life, an Army pilot.

Her part in the war, she reasoned, would be to stage tennis exhibitions to entertain soldiers. But, then she lost a baby and her husband died in a plane crash; and then the Army had the nerve to ask her to be a spy.

Marble’s desire to step out of line, to make a difference, prompted her to accept the mission. Undercover, she went to Switzerland and connected with a former boyfriend who was laundering money for Adolf Hitler. She broke into her boyfriend’s safe and photographed incriminating evidence for a future war trial. In the middle of the night, she escaped in a car and soon was pursued by another car driven by her so-called “handler,” who turned out to be a Russian double agent, a traitor, who demanded the camera. When she refused, he shot her, left her for dead and escaped with the camera.

Waking in a hospital the next day, her boss expressed his regret for her wounds and announced that without the camera, there was no evidence. But, Marble protested she had a photographic memory and had studied the files. Her findings ultimately would be presented as key evidence in the Nuremberg Trials after the war that led to convictions of major war criminals.

Marble’s story is one of 15 in Mari K. Eder’s book, The Girls Who Stepped Out of Line, a paperback released in May (Sourcebooks’ hardcover released a year ago).

Eder, a retired Army major general who delayed her writing career for an intriguing and fulfilling military career that enabled her to become a senior Army commander, presents fantastic accounts of women who risked all to rescue downed pilots in escaping captivity, enduring harm themselves; to helping Jews and others to escape concentration camps, going behind enemy lines, piloting planes during dangerous missions and working on projects so secret that they wouldn’t find out the fruit of their work until decades later.

Eder will make two appearances in New Hampshire: July 25, at Books-A-Million on Fort Eddy Road, Concord, from 5 to 7 p.m.; and July 26 at 7 p.m. at the Wright World War II Museum on Route 28 North in Wolfeboro. The Wolfeboro event requires phone reservations at 603-569-1212.

One of Eder’s chapters deals with the “Six-triple-eight” (6888th) Postal Battalion, the only all-women, all-Black unit of the war that operated along front lines to sort and deliver mail for soldiers at great risk and sometimes under fire, for which the unit was recently awarded the Congressional Gold Medal Award. The late Doris Moore, born and raised in Portsmouth, was part of that unit.

In retirement, Eder began researching obituaries, anxious to find a story. She was shocked and overwhelmed by what she found. “Who knew that?” Eder asked herself many times as she uncovered tale after tale of accomplishments by daring women, largely unheralded. Her book was the Washington Post’s “book of the month” for August 2021. She has made 45 appearances across America telling her story about these courageous heroes most Americans don’t know, sometimes, unfortunately, just because these heroes were women.

(John F. Donovan is a resident of Loudon who spent 22 years as a senior civilian advisor on the Army staff at the Pentagon.)

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