Mary Heckendorn

Mary Heckendorn

Born: 9/28/1916 Near Collington in Prince George County
Married: 4/18/1936 Kenneth Square, Pennsylvania to Jim Duff
Event: 9/7/1943 Jim Duff dies
Event: 9/??/1943 Joined the Army
Married: 9/7/1946 Annapolis, Maryland to Dale Heckendorn
Child: 10/5/1954 Dayton, Ohio, Robert
Event: 11/25/1968 Dale Heckendorn dies
Event: 7/??/2003 Moves to Moscow, Idaho
Dies: 7/9/2004 1:55pm at age 87

Her obituary and information on memorial fund


I was born September 28, 1916, in the home of my maternal grandparents, Charles and Minna Rind in Prince Georges County, Maryland. My parents were Robert Ellershaw and Mary Howard Rind.

After my birth, my mother and I joined my father and my two-year-old sister Genie, at the home we shared with my paternal grandparents in Anne Arundel County, Maryland.

Before we children were of school age, my father built a house for his little family on the far edge of the 150 acre farm. Genie and I explored our woods and streams endlessly. There were huge grape vines to swing on with Tarzan cries. Sometimes our mother would join us as we searched for the first appearance of arbutus under the leaves in early spring, or dug up ladies' slippers to transplant to her woodland garden at home.

At the age of ? both Genie and I got horses.

I loved school. Genie and I walked about a half mile down an unpaved road to meet our school bus which delivered us to Annapolis Grammar School. Our sister Robin was born just when Genie and I, age 12 and 14, were just entering high school. I graduated from Annapolis High in 1933 at age 16.

Upon graduation, I was awarded a scholarship to Watson Secretarial School in Baltimore. I escaped having to search Baltimore for a job in the depths of the depression by applying for a job in the circulation department of the Enoch Pratt Library. All those books! I loved it. My pay was $60 a month which easily took care of expenses. My room at the YWCA was $3.50 a week and meals at the Oriole Cafeteria could be had for a dollar or so.

I met James Duff, a chemist and an amateur painter. On April 19, 1936, James Luther Duff and I were married in Kenneth Square, Pennsylvania. I was 19 and he was 21. We moved from Baltimore to Montclair, New Jersey, where Jim worked as a draftsman for the Thomas A. Edison Company and I worked for the Newark Public Library. We loved to go to museums, art galleries and coffee houses. We really enjoyed sailing our boat, the Gooney Bird, on the Chesapeake Bay.

Early in 1943, Jim contracted tuberculosis, the disease that had taken his father in his early forties. There was no cure of tuberculosis then and people would live out their days in sanatoriums. Jim was moved to a sanatorium in New Jersey, but soon felt trapped and insisted on leaving. We moved to a little house on my parent's place in Maryland where I cared for him. He died in September 1943. He was 28 years old and I was 26.

Several times during that long summer, Jim's Draft Board sent him induction notices in spite of my insistence that he was too ill to respond. In November of 1943 I took his place by joining what was then the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps. [photo] It soon to become the integrated into the Army as the Women's Army Corps (WAC).

I was sent by train to Fort Des Moines, Iowa, for basic training. I remember spending Christmas there. Our sergeant who was not known for having any feelings what so ever crept in when when we were asleep, twenty to a room, and hung a stocking of goodies on each bed.

After basic training I was assigned to Madison Barracks, New York to work in the post library. Madison Barracks, near Watertown, was established many years before and was scheduled for closure in the Spring. In April we were happy to leave the knee-deep snow and bitter winds of upper New York State for Fort Hancock, New Jersey. The old fort was situated on Sandy Hook, a spit of land guarding the entrance to New York Harbor. I worked in the post library and also wrote a column for the post newsletter, "The Fog Horn".

The nearby Coast Guard Station furnished ferry rides to New York to anyone who had a weekend pass and I took advantage of the service to spend time with my friend Elaine Austin home on Bleeker St. in the Village. One memorable day I stopped by a kiosk where someone was giving free tickets to anyone in uniform. I had seen almost every play I could afford in Baltimore, but nothing prepared me for the wonder of "Oklahoma!". Most musicals of the day saved their hit songs to boost their thin plots midway through. Oklahoma opened with a rousing "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" and ended with the wonderful finale, "Oklahoma", now the state's official anthem.

I had no right to enjoy my post so much, my conscious told me, while somewhere I must be needed for the war effort. I applied and was accepted for overseas duty.

At Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, the heat was relentless in the summer of 1944. This was much like boot camp for the guys only not quite as strenuous. I still had to crawl through mud under barbed wire all the while live ammo was shot over our heads. We learned how to climb a landing net, we did endless pushups. We spent time on the rifle range in spite of the fact that we were not issued weapons. Gas mask training included a frightening moment exposed to real gas, masks off! Tan and fit, with a few muscles we didn't know we had, we were loaded on a troop train and started on a journey to a destination unknown.

When the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps was created in 1941, many officers were doubtful of their usefulness. A champion of the Corps was General Eisenhower, commander of all allied forces in Europe. What men failed to note, the General wrote in his memoirs, is the fact that today's army uses filing clerks, office managers, even junior staff officers in many headquarters. He noted that in Great Britain he saw our women perform brilliantly in various roles, including antiaircraft batteries.

Nevertheless as we filed onto the RMS Queen Elizabeth, some of the 15,000 men on board greeted us with cat calls while others shouted words of encouragement. I was one of 350 women on board.

We left new York on September 24, 1944. We traveled without a destroyer escort so we took a southerly route to avoid U-boat lanes. There was a terrible storm during the crossing and most people got sea sick. Imagine 15,000 people crowded onto too that ship. It took all day to serve out 2 meals a day to that many people. The seas were rough and many of them were sick for days. We arrived in Scotland on October 1, 1944.

There was no time to look around as we were sent to Litchfield in the heart of England to await our next assignment. Part of our training in Litchfield was a lesson in how to assemble and take apart a rifle. This was mandatory for everyone headed to the war zone, whether you had a weapon or not. Ours was not to question why!

We crossed to France on a channel steamer and landed on Omaha Beach five months after our men had taken those formidable cliffs with such a heavy loss of life. Since then tons of heavy equipment, supplies, men and vehicles had passed up this crude, muddy road to the top of the hill. By then we knew our destination was Paris, but we also knew that we were very low on the priority list for transportation. Two big tents were pitched for us in a grassy spot on top of the hill and rations for our first day were a ten pound can of Spam and several loaves of bread. Boxes of field rations arrived the next day. We waited, mostly in the cold rain, for five days until we were loaded into two big trucks and we were on our way via the Red Ball Highway to Paris.

We were billeted in one of Paris' tourist hotels where the chef, who had been deprived of so many things, cheerfully cooked our army rations.

Paris, of course, was not the "City of Lights" of tourist memories. Five years of German occupation had left people short of many necessities. No fountains played. Lights were dim. Occasionally we'd see an ex-prisoner of war wearing the black and white garb he'd worn in prison in protest against the government's not keeping its promise to issue each of them a suit of clothes. Occationally, we'd see a woman with a shaved head, her punishment for collaborating with the enemy.

I was a clerk-typist in the office of the Information and Education Division of SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expedition Forces) headed by General Eisenhower. I&E personnel worked for Stars & Stripes, Army Talks and also the care, feeding, and transportation of entertainers who came to boost the morale of the troops. We breifly also produced the magazine "Overseas Woman" which was very popular. I posed for a cover drawing illustrating that we could now get service stripes. [pose shot] [cover of magazine] Just down the hall from my office was the office of Dr. Suess during his tour. Bob Hope came through and Marlene Dietrich. Our office was in the Shell Building, next door to the building housing the the Paris edition of the New York Herald Tribune. This building and its presses were taken over for Stars & Stripes.

In England, Captain Dale Heckendorn was part of a group of officers who were being held to deploy in the civilian government of Germany at the war's end. These officers were being shipped on a train to the region that in a few months would be the site of the Battle of the Bulge. When half-way there Captain Heckendorn was pulled off the train and assigned to Stars & Stripes, Paris as its fiscal officer.

I was working for Stars and stripes int the Shell Building on the Rue de Berri in Paris when I heard a disturbance in the next office. I found a good natured group of reporters and such trying to spank our new fiscal officer on his birthday. That was November 25, 1944.

In December 1944, Germany began a last desperate offensive through the Ardennes. This campaign was known as the Battle of the Bulge. The army was short of supplies and ammunition and dealing with deep snow and fog. It was rough times.

A red letter day for me, and all of France, was Bastille Day (July 14) 1945. I was chosen as one of 90 WACS to march in Paris parade [she is second row closest to camera -rh] down the Champs Elysees. There were troops from nearly every part of the world in that parade and the French furnished a beautiful mounted band. The horses were coal black and perfectly trained to ignore even the big bass drums some of them carried. I felt proud and honored that our small group was to march behind this wonderful band. The day was hot, and we soon found that keeping in step behind those noble beasts while dodging their fragrant droppings was quite a chore.

At last we were drawn up at the Palace de Concord for inspection. Standing rigidly at attention, I was aware of a figure before me with an amazing amount of meals. My eyes traveled up the imposing six feet four of General de Gaulle. "Who are these?", he asked. "American women, Sir", de Gauls's comment is lost to history.

In November 1945, I received an honorable discharge from the WAC at Camp Phillip Morris at Le Havre. Camp Phillip Morris was one of a number of camps around Le Havre named after brands of cigarettes and collectively called " the cigarette camps". I accepted a job in personnel with Stars and Stripes first in Frankfurt and then the Southern Edition, in Altdorf, Germany. [Pictures from Altdorf, the War Years, thanks to David Lewis Eynon who knew both during the war. -rh]

There I had a chance to attend for a day the trial of the eleven principal war criminals at Nuremberg. They were all there, looking strangely pasty-faced and shrunken. There was nothing to show that these were the men who had starved, beaten and tortured some six million people in a crime without parallel.

Dale and I departed the ETO (European Theater of Operations) from Le Harve for home on the same troop carrier on June 16, 1946.

We were married September 7, 1946 in Annapolis, Maryland.

Immediately we were off to Graham, Texas where a friend of Dale's offered a partnership in a newly purchased weekly newspaper. After two years of struggle it became apparent that Graham really wasn't big enough for two papers.

Next stop "The Nashville Tennessean" where Dale worked the copy desk and I worked on the women's pages. "Society" was taken very seriously in Nashville in the late forties. Weddings and engagements occupied a whole section o each Sunday paper and featured on the front page were usually four wedding portrait of recent brides. The importance of all of this was brought home forcibly to me when I tried to soothe an irate mother who daughter's picture had been printed below the fold!

1951 found Dale on the copy desk of the Dayton, Ohio "Dayton Journal-Herald". I found a job editing the "Dayton Shopping News" (published 9/26/1927 to 12/28/1972). I was delighted because it gave me a chance to write a weekly column with a free rein, provided I didn't offend an advertiser.

October 5, 1954, our son Robert was born. Time to settle down. I gave up my job at the Shopping News and was replaced by someone named Erma Bombeck (yes, that Erma Bombeck).

After a visit to Norman, Oklahoma, Dale reported that Norman was a nice little town of 10,000 folk, home of the University of Oklahoma with an enrollment of 10,000 students. we packed up six-month old Rob and all our worldly goods and moved to Norman in May of 1955. Dale was to be managing editor of the "Norman Transcript", a paper that had been part of the town since 1889. (Today Norman's population is 90,000 and the university's enrollment is 30,000.)

Dale suggested that I write a weekly column as I had in Dayton, which I did for the next 12 years.

Meantime, I discovered the University of Oklahoma's famous professional writing school. The confession magazines called the "Trues" were "True Story" and "True Confessions" both published by McFadden Publications were tremendously popular at the time. My professor suggested I might try my had at confessing. To my amazement I sold the first story I wrote. I didn't retire from writing until I had sold somewhere between two and three hundred of them. There are only a few of these magazines left today, replaced I suspect by much more dramatic daytime television shows.

Dale had been offered the managing editor position of the Tulsa World. He took and we would be moving to Tulsa soon. Then on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1968, Dale died of a sudden and massive heart attack. He had just turned 53. We stayed in Norman.

Dale was my mentor in all my forays into newspaper writing. Chopping a sentence here, eliminating a favorite word there, and always producing clear, crisp copy where confusion reigned. Doug Feaver, who began his journalistic career at the Transcript and left to take a job at the prestigious Washington Post wrote, "Dale took me under his wing and preached fairness, accuracy, and doublechecking as the prerequisites to responsible journalism."

From 1969 to 1976, I worked for the University of Oklahoma. I helped write a handbook for incoming freshmen and produced a newsletter for parents for several years.

Since retirement I have served six years on the Norman Planning Commission and six years on the Board of the Sooner Theatre, a 1929 era movie house that is a national historic building lovingly restored. I am a member of the National League of American Pen Women and have taken part in our annual workshops.

I have traveled over much of the West. In ?? she, her sister Robin, Jack and Debbie and Marilyn and I went on a memorable cruise and train ride down from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Seward and then aboard a Princess cruise line to Vancouver.

Someone once said, "A book lover never goes to bed alone." True. I have never lost my love of books. Novelists Anne Tyler, Barbara Kingsolver, Alace Walker and, yes, Jane Austen are my favorites.

Today I share my home with Spot, a very cool and self-confident cat.

Someone once told me that the time we spend in the "Golden Years" whizzes by at the speed of light. I try to ignore the warning, but this morning I found myself reciting Andrew Marvell's remarks "To his Coy Mistress".

"But at my back I always hear,
Time's winged Chariot drawing near.

Time to start a new project!

My mother decided to finally move from her house of 40 years in Norman, Oklahoma. We thought it would be better to move out closer to us in Moscow, Idaho. We packed up her belongings and said good-bye to the house with the picket fence. She was very sad to leave all her friends in Norman like Betty and Libba and ... and ... and ... Her roots were deep there. She, I and her dear cat Spot set off down the road in her old Dodge.

She was uncomforable for the first two days until we got to Fort Collins. That when her discomfort appeared to be serious. A trip to the emergency room revealed that she had uterine cancer. She was operated on immediately and spent the next three weeks recovering there. The people in Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins were great.

She flew on to Spokane and I tried to drive the Dodge but it wouldn't make it over 6000 feet. So we left it in Fort Collins and I drove a rental car the rest of the way.

My mother recovered beautifully and she thought the Palouse was a gorgeous place but a little cold in the winter for someone her age. She and the cat moved into Good Sam here in Moscow. A wonderful and caring place with lovely gardens.

She read, went out to eat with us and to the movies. Things were going better and better until a fall broke her hip. They operated and she again showed miraculous healing abilities. She was in the nursing side for just two days when she had a stroke and things went down hill quickly. She was hospitalized on the first of July. It was just too much to have a stroke and broken hip. I think that was the time to say good-bye. She passed away peacefully on July 9. We will be placing a bird bath in her honor in the gardens at the nursing home.

My friends always told me how lucky I was to have a mother like her. Her bonds to the community of Norman were strong. Her friends were her joy. I will miss her endlessly.

This is a simple sweet poem my mother wrote for me for my birthday in 2001.

Dress warmly when the wind is chill,
Let Marilyn baby you when you're ill.
Don't ride your bike on an icy street.
Be ultra careful what you eat.
Excessive colas are a sin
For you are precious to your kin.