By Paul Wood
CHAMPAIGN — Not everybody who helps the U.S. cause in war wears a uniform.
Frances Schneider was a civilian instructor in World War II, teaching Morse code to enlisted men at Scott Field in Belleville.
She just turned 100, and she can still run off Morse code in her musical style, which helped her memorize it.
“I could go through the whole alphabet for you,” she said.
And she still has no problem hearing and remembers her adventures in wartime as if they were just a year or two ago.
Schneider said she felt like she “had to do something for the young men making their sacrifices.” Eventually, all three of her brothers served.
She even trained her own future husband at Scott Air Force Base.
Staff Sgt. Jack Schneider, now passed away, was a section chief in the Army before the Air Force took over the job.
Her father worked for the railroad. She grew up in Rankin with lots of boys among her relatives.
She was working for the Siegel mail order company. On Pearl Harbor day, she went to Mass, then to a Chicago skating arena, where she heard the news of the attack.
“I wanted to do something for the war effort,” she said.
“Everybody who’s American should. It’s unpatriotic not to do something.”
She took aptitude tests. She got the highest rank to take code. Morse Code — dot-dash-dot — was a natural for her.
“I had a head for music, and I could feel the rhythm in it,” Schneider said. “I still do.”
So in 1942, not long after the war had started, she was at her duties.
“They closed that, and I chose Scott Field, because it was still in Illinois, and I wanted to be near my family,” she said.
One thing she didn’t like was working the third shift.
“All you did was wake the men up, because the code was so monotonous,” she said.
Her future husband had been sent to England as an aircraft electrician.
He put his name in for pilot training. Instead, he was sent to radio school.
She met her future husband in class, and soon it was … Mass. That was their first date, instead of the movie they’d planned.
It must have been love, because it wasn’t a share of coding ability.
“My husband had difficulty with doing it high speed,” she said.
“He said, ‘Could you help me with this?'” she said.
She could type 90 words a minute. “It was almost like a game,” Schneider said.
They had a May-December romance. They met in May and married in December, she said, a quick romance for that era, 1944.
He went to teletype school in Chanute, then ran the teletype station in Minneapolis.
Staying here, she sent off weather reports and other data, sometimes in a five-letter secret code.
In the summer of 1945, Jack Schneider got a message that no one should be in the radio rooms that night except him. He needed to send weather reports to a squadron and teletype a message to Washington every half-hour.
Later, he realized he’d been sending the weather reports to the Enola Gay mission, loaded with an atomic bomb.
Those two bombs ended the war with Japan a few months after victory in Europe.
After some time in Western Europe, especially England, it was time for her husband to return to the U.S. She had spent about three years teaching coding.
They lived in Cincinnati for a while. Jack did a number of jobs, mostly in sales.
“He sure sold me a bill of goods,” she joked.
After living in Hoopeston a while, they settled in Champaign with their 11 children.
Do you know a veteran who could share a story about military service? Contact Paul Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org.