Each time I visit with Carson City’s Phyllis Lorraine Anker Bendure, I discover more of her multi-layered life story. Weighing only 4 pounds on March 7, 1919, she was not expected to live. Fortunately, her family doctor was wrong 94 years ago.
Graduating from Pershing County High School in 1937, she became a University of Nevada undergraduate student. Phyllis earned money for her tuition via piano gigs, tutoring and summer jobs. She tutored Marion Motley, the only University of Nevada football player enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, and the second black man ever to receive that honor.
Phyllis graduated from Nevada in 1941, then taught business subjects at Eureka County High School in 1941-42 and Yerington High School in 1942-43.
All her friends were in the service by June 1943, so Phyllis enlisted in the Women Army Corps, or WACs, on Sept. 20, 1943. A train delivered her to Des Moines, Iowa, for WAC boot camp. She quickly rose in rank to sergeant.
In 1944 she was assigned to the newly constructed Pentagon in Washington, D.C. She was one of the WACs assigned to Joint Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall, handling top-secret information. Being fluent in French, Phyllis accompanied Marshall to the 1944 Roosevelt-Churchill conference in Quebec. On June 13, 1944, Mrs. Roosevelt and Mrs. Churchill had tea for the U.S. and Canadian WACs attending the conference. A Canadian WAC was known as a CWAC, pronounced “quack” by the Canadians. Phyllis engaged both gracious hostesses in conversation.
Successful military leaders need accurate and complete information to make informed decisions. Phyllis said that every eight hours, seven days a week, Marshall received a complete briefing of each military operation around the world.
In Marshall’s office, one of her jobs was to greet each officer. Toward the end of their conversation, she would ask him for a shoulder patch. Phyllis’ Aunt Hannah suggested creating an afghan out of the patches. Phyllis crocheted 4½-by-4½-inch white wool squares and sewed a shoulder patch on each. When she had completed three squares, she mailed them to her mother. After the war, Phyllis, with Aunt Hannah’s guidance, crocheted the squares together with black yarn to create a 41½-inch-by-64-inch afghan, forming The Pentagon Patches.
Each of the 96 patches represents an Army, corps, division, service corps, theatre of operations, USAAF, Parachute Infantry Regiment, location of headquarters, defense command or Veterans Administration.
Phyllis was discharged as a staff sergeant Feb. 18, 1946. She went to Lovelock and, after a whirlwind romance, married Ted Bendure there in May 1946. They had three children: Teddy, Fred and Sue. Phyllis taught business subjects at Carson High School and retired in 1983 after teaching in Nevada for 34 years.
The Bendure family gathers to celebrate birthdays and holidays. Phyllis treasures those special moments with her family.
Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.