Opinion by Bonnie Henry : After all this time, WAC pals are together again

2007-08-30T00:00:00Z Opinion by Bonnie Henry : After all this time, WAC pals are together againOpinion by Bonnie Henry Arizona Daily Star
August 30, 2007 12:00 am  • 

Sometimes they were separated by an ocean. Sometimes by mere miles.

"One time we were only 14 miles apart, when we were both living in Nebraska," says Joyce Parris.

A former WAC, Parris, 71, lost touch with best friend and fellow WAC Rickie Heckert after both served together in Germany during the 1950s.

"We both wrote letters to each other that were returned as undeliverable," says Heckert, 76, whose marriage to an Air Force man took her hither and yon.

Then in 1998, Parris visited the Women in Military Service for America Memorial in Washington, D.C., which contains a computerized register of 250,000 women's stories.

"I had entered my information earlier so I was checking to see if it was there," says Parris, a Tucsonan since 1978. "Then I decided to see if Rickie was there. She was — and living in Kingman!"

Before long, both were excitedly gabbing on the phone. Just a few months later, they were meeting face to face in Laughlin, Nev.

Two years ago, Rickie and her husband, Don Heckert, moved to Tucson — not far from the home of Parris and her husband, Jack Parris.

Last February, they helped celebrate the Heckerts' 50th wedding anniversary — only fitting, since 50 years earlier, Joyce Parris had been Rickie Heckert's maid of honor.

"We were inseparable at Bremerhaven," says Heckert, who arrived at the sprawling Army base in the port city of Bremerhaven, Germany, at the same time as Parris.

"There were a whole bunch of us who flew from Fort Dix, N.J., to Frankfurt, but Rickie and I were the only two girls sent to Bremerhaven," says Parris.

It was on the train trip to Bremerhaven that their friendship solidified.

Brooklyn born, Parris joined the Women's Army Corps in the summer of '54. She was 18 and eager to see the world.

Instead, she spent more than a year at the WAC training center in Fort McClellan, Ala.

"They thought I was leadership quality so they kept me there," says Parris, laughing. "I yelled at everybody, marched them back and forth to barracks, to classes, to training. Finally, I thought, 'Why am I here when the point was to go overseas?' "

She shipped out November of '55.

A Kansas girl, Heckert also joined the WACS in 1954. "I thought my life needed a new direction," she says.

At Bremerhaven, she was assigned to the Army Signal Corps. Parris, meanwhile, did clerical work.

Both lived, as did all WACS there, in a WAC detachment building that once had been quarters for German officers.

On leave, they traveled to France, Belgium, Holland, the British Isles. They also double-dated. "I went through the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps," says Parris with a laugh.

In February of '57, Heckert was married by a Navy chaplain. Her commanding officer gave her away. Afterward, a reception was held at the WAC detachment.

In July, Heckert left the WACS. She and Don went to Scotland for a time, then returned to Germany. But by then, Parris was gone.

In December of 1958, Parris had married a Marine, got pregnant and left the WACS. "If you got pregnant, you were out," she says.

By 1959, she was stateside. But the marriage didn't last, and Parris, by then a mother of two, lived for a time near her mother in Sioux City, Iowa.

That's where she met Jack Parris, who would pursue a television career in Tucson.

Meanwhile, Heckert was living everywhere from Florida to Nebraska, Okinawa to Oregon. Her husband left the service in 1975, and by the early '90s, they were living in Kingman.

But for two brief years — 1988 and 1989 — they lived in Tucson.

Once again, Heckert had no idea her old friend was so close.

"I'm sure we shopped the same mall," says Parris. Now they shop it together.

Did you know...

While it wasn't exactly the Women's Army Corps, some women in Tucson did serve on the World War II home front by joining the Green Guards, who trained with brooms and shovels in lieu of more traditional weapons.

● Bonnie Henry's column also appears Sundays in ¡Vamos! and Mondays in Accent. Reach her at 434-4074 or at bhenry@azstarnet.com, or write to 3295 W. Ina Road, Suite 125, Tucson, AZ 85741. Bonnie's new book ● To order Bonnie Henry's new collection of writings about Tucson's rich history, call 573-4417. "Tucson Memories" is $39.95 plus tax, shipping and handling.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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