‘We women did everything the men did’
Still tall and slim at age 100, Mildred Helen Freeouf Brodt welcomed this reporter to her rural Fairmont home by providing a succinct four-page summary of her century of activities. Including Mildred’s education, her military service, her international travels, her employment and her volunteer activities, it reads like the high-powered resume of a woman who repeatedly filled nontraditional roles long before women’s lib became a topic. In conversation, Mildred provided many colorful details about a life that seems to have been supercharged.
Mildred was born on Oct. 7, 1918, in Dorchester, Saline County, Nebraska, about 50 miles south of Lincoln. During her years at Dorchester High School, she was a cheerleader, a band member and on the honor roll. Because she was too tall to wear the clothing available in stores, Mildred sewed many of her own clothes in her younger years. She said, “I’m still 5 foot, 11 inches tall.”
Mildred attended the University of Nebraska at Lincoln for one year and then taught in Saline County country schools for six years. She said, “I taught kindergarten through 8th-grade in one room, to about 25 kids. I had to start the fire in the stove before they got there. Many of them had walked a mile to get to school.”
On Sept. 1, 1943, Mildred joined the Women’s Army Corp. She explained, “My boyfriend sent me a ‘Dear Jane’ letter from the Army, so I joined the Army myself to get away from the situation.”
She was sent to WAC basic training at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. On Christmas Day of that year, she was posted to Camp Crowder, Missouri, where she worked with payroll. Interested in serving overseas, she trained for it at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, and Camp Stoneman, California.
“We women did everything the men did,” Mildred said. “We’d go over the water on a rope, we’d crawl, and we’d eat the food that had been rained on. At Camp Stoneman there were more drills and physical training, to toughen you up.” On Sept. 21, 1944, she shipped out for New Guinea.
“After 26 days on the ship, we arrived at Oro Bay in time for the Easter sunrise service,” Mildred recalled. “We got a list of materials that came in to allocate to the troops, but we never had enough. Our supplies were cut because they wanted the war with Germany to be over first, so the supplies went there. We also had a food shortage. We had Spam, which was not like it is now, and the bread was full of bugs. We picked them out, and after a while we didn’t. We couldn’t go out into the jungle because some of the Japanese were out there, so we stayed in our compound, but we went to the edge of the jungle to get coconuts and bananas. I can’t eat raw bananas—never could.”
The following year, Mildred was sent to the Philippine Islands to help work on plans to invade Japan. She said, “I worked with officers, organizing materials and people—who would go and how they would get there.”
After the Japanese surrender in August 1945, Mildred was sent to Tokyo as a personnel administrator, among the first women to serve in the occupation of Japan. She attended the war crimes trials of General Tojo and others. Following her Army discharge on Dec. 24, 1946, she took the opportunity to climb the legendary Mt. Fuji.
“There were three Jeep loads of former and current military,” Mildred said. “We just drove down. We put on our boots and started climbing, from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., to avoid the sun. There were sheds with blankets, so we rented blankets and lay down with about 60 other people. You slept in your blanket for a few hours and then climbed to the top just as the sun was coming up. Ooh, that was a thrill to see the sun coming up at the summit.”
Soon after Mildred’s discharge, she returned to Nebraska, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. She recalled, “I was the only woman in many of my classes.” Her education led to her employment for two years as an office manager at a Lincoln shoe store. She didn’t stay in Nebraska long.
Mildred’s next job, from 1953 through 1958, was at the National Security Agency in Washington, D.C. As the personnel administrator, she was the only woman in the department. During that time, she was sent to St. Louis, Missouri, to open a recruiting office.
Looking for a change of pace, Mildred moved to Minneapolis, where she attended the American Institute of Banking. She became the training director at Northwest National Bank and later the office manager at Knox-Reeves Advertising. In 1964, she enrolled in Nebraska Teachers’ College to learn how to work with challenged students. She returned to Minnesota when she married longtime beau Warren Brodt on Aug. 21, 1965, and moved to the Brodt family farm, four miles from Fairmont, where she has lived for 53 years.
“Warren and I met in Washington, D.C.,” Mildred said, “when I was working for the National Security Agency. He was there for the 1956 inauguration of President Eisenhower. Later, when I was working in Minneapolis, he came up to see me just about every weekend.” When they married nine years after meeting, she was 46, he was 55. He passed away on July 15, 2001.
Mildred taught in Fairmont Public Schools for 15 years and started the special education program. In 1980, she was named Teacher of the Year. Her volunteer activities over several decades are too numerous to mention, as is the list of honors and recognitions she has received.
Now entering her second century, Mildred said, “People ask me if I plan to live here on the farm forever, and the answer is ‘yes.’ My neighbors take good care of me. One of my neighbors, a friend, is a nurse. Another neighbor brings me my mail every day. Others come to fix a window, rake the leaves or clean. I have drivers, one of whom was my student. My three nieces come to visit, and I’m only four miles from town.”