WHITTIER – Joan Christine Schwochert De Munbrun, one of the first women to enlist in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II, died Nov. 2 at age 101. Born June 15, 1913 near Ross, North Dakota, she grew up on her parents’ homestead farm 14 miles from the nearest town. The family later moved to a log cabin in the woods of northern Minnesota.
When Joan was only 10 years old, her mother passed away and Joan was sent to live with relatives in Wisconsin. At 15, she saved her money from a job at a summer resort and hitch-hiked to Minneapolis to go to beauty school, eventually opening her beauty studio.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, Joan decided to close her shop and was one of the first 125 women to be inducted into the newly-formed Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps.
After basic training in Iowa, she was sent to flight school in Eagle Pass, Tex., where she was taught photography. She photographed the young soldiers as they entered the school, and whenever one of them died in a crash during training, it was her duty to develop those photos and send them to family members. Later she taught the operation and maintenance of aerial cameras in Denver.
She was honorably discharged on Thanksgiving Day 1945 and headed back to Minneapolis where, after six weeks in the bitter cold, she opted to head to Los Angeles and use the GI Bill to enter a two-year course at the Fred C. Archer School of Photography.
After graduation, Joan accepted a position as the first staff photographer for Highlands University in Las Vegas, New Mexico. It was there she met Roland De Munbrun, a student who would soon become her husband. In 1948 they had a son, Ron.
When Ron was 9 months old, the trio moved to Palo Alto, where Joan’s husband continued his studies. The couple parted about a year later, and Joan and her son moved to Los Angeles, where she took a job as an accountant for the construction firm Ralph M. Parsons Company.
When Joan heard of a veterans home being built in Chula Vista, she was one of the first to sign-up. While she waited for the facility to be completed, she moved to Whittier, where her cousin Margaret Snyder lives.
The veterans home opened May 3, 2000, and Joan, at age 87, was the first woman and seventh resident to move into the facility.
In lieu of flowers, Joan’s family suggested a donation to the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation or the National Museum of the United states Army.
Published: Nov. 13, 2014 - Volume 13 - Issue 31