Frances Skiba Hoffmann, a WWII veteran and one of the first members of the Marine Corps Women's Reserve, died last week in New Orleans at age 96 of COVID-19. She was a beloved member of our Museum family.
Frances Jean Skiba was born in Ramsey, Minnesota. By 1943, Skiba had moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin and after seeing a recruiting poster in a post office, she joined the Marine Corps Women's Reserve. She attended boot camp at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and then Private First Class Skiba was assigned to the aircraft salvage yard at the Marine Air Base at Cherry Point, North Carolina.
"It was an unusual assignment. It was the first time women were assigned to such a duty. The purpose of the salvage yard was to retrieve parts from various aircraft to be reused in active aircraft. It was a very active place to work and the inventory was important to maintain the planes that were still flying. We had to wear work clothes all the time and didn't come home real neat and clean." While stationed at Cherry Point, PFC, Skiba volunteered to go to Hawaii, and she underwent additional training prior to sailing.
"We had to pass a rigid swimming test. We had to learn how to climb up and down the net on what was supposed to be a ship. It was thrilling arriving in Hawaii. I was assigned to the Fleet Marine Force. Our working conditions were a little different because the offices were very confidential. And we were not allowed to talk about the work there. It was mostly office work and everything to do with the processing of troops and supplies for combat. We were among the first to know about the possible surrender of Japan."
At peak strength, the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve counted 19,000 in service. By the end of the war, women made up one half to two thirds of Marine Corps base personnel at major posts.
After the war, Hoffman married and went into a 40-year career in banking. "Many people were uncomfortable having a woman take care of them," she said in a 2008 interview. "But my boss was modern enough to hire me and count my time in service as the same as a college education."
Hoffman began volunteering at what was then The National D-Day Museum in 2001 and worked her last volunteer shift at The National WWII Museum in 2013. In addition to her years of volunteerism, she worked for a time as an employee at the ticket desk.
In a 2007 talk at the Museum, Hoffman recounted her wartime service and her appreciation for the Museum, “Today I am a volunteer at The National WWII Museum. It took three years to level a two-block area and to lay the pilings.”
“This year the construction began. The Museum will grow four times larger. In 2009, they will build a fabulous theater, a canteen, and a model 1940 railroad station. … It’s exciting to be a small part of the expansion.”
“Today you have honored me and, for that, I thank you.”
Frances was an important member of the Museum’s family from the earliest days of its history. She will be remembered fondly by her colleagues and peers for her grit, determination, spirit, and kindness.
"Frances was truly one in a million and will be deeply missed by the Museum family," said President & CEO Stephen J. Watson. "As a longtime volunteer since our early days, she generously shared her WWII story with our visitors and was part of the team that helped the Museum rebound after Hurricane Katrina. Her legacy of service to our country and to the Museum will continue to live on through her oral history, which we are so fortunate to have in our collection."
“Frances goes back to the Museum beginnings and was always such a graceful presence. She had a gentle spirit and I always used to kid her that she couldn’t really be a Marine. She just smiled. Indeed she was. Semper Fi. She will live in our history and our hearts,” Museum President & CEO Emeritus Nick Mueller wrote upon hearing the news of her passing.