It was April 1944, and Randy Tidmore was on her first official break with her all-female platoon following a month of boot camp at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
Unlike the women in the Army or Navy, who were respectively dubbed WACs (Women’s Army Corps) and WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service), the women Marines were “not to let anybody call us anything but Marines,” Randy recalls.
But not everyone in the military afforded them the same respect. As the women of Platoon 4, Company C waited for a bus, a drunk man in a Navy uniform approached them and yelled, “BAMs!”
“That’s the nickname that they had for us, and it was not a good nickname,” Randy explains. (It stood for “Broad-Assed Marines.”) “So I hit him. And I said, ‘Don’t you call me a BAM.’” He took a swipe back, but missed, she recalls with a laugh.
Randy was one of 18,000 women who joined the Marines by that year. While comprising just 4 percent of the Marines, women worked as clerks, mechanics, and aerial gunnery instructors, among other jobs, and they helped pave the way for more than 1 million women who have since served in the U.S. military.
Roberta “Randy” Jane Randolph was born in 1922 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to Clyde and Laura (Mildenstein) Randolph. In 1931, when she was nine, her mother died of pneumonia. A couple years later, Clyde became seriously ill and lost his job as a traveling salesman. He remarried and eventually opened a grocery store; the family “always somehow had enough money to eat,” she says.
Randy entered a five-year dual-degree (B.S./R.N.) nursing program at the University of Iowa, where she became close with three other girls in her dorm. After two years of liberal arts studies, she began classes at the nursing school. But she would only stay there for one year.
By 1943, everyone around her was doing something to support the war effort. She and her best friends wanted to be part of it, and the four decided to become Rosies together, moving to Rockford, Illinois, to work at the J.I. Case Company, a farm equipment manufacturer that was producing airplane parts for the war. Randy worked on B-26 wings for six months before enlisting in the Marine Corps in Chicago alongside one of her closest friends, Mo.
During boot camp, the women lived in the Camp Lejeune barracks. The gunnery sergeant woke them each morning so they could put on their dungarees and boondockers for pre-breakfast calisthenics. Afterwards, they cleaned up and changed into shirts and ties for marching.
In the classroom, the women learned about logistics: “I could tell you every airplane that was flying at the time,” she says. Outside, they learned to crawl under barbed wire, don gas masks and carry unloaded guns. After graduating from boot camp in April 1944, Randy went to motor transport school, where she learned to drive trucks, change spark plugs and back up trailers. She also discovered a lifelong love of driving.
Her first assignment was at Quantico, Virginia, where she drove staff cars and sometimes chauffeured officers to restaurants in Washington, D.C. She also drove a garbage truck around Quantico, while two men in the back lifted the cans. That detail offered her a rare chance to work with African-American service members at a time when the armed services were still segregated. During breaks, the three would sit together on the tail gate, eating doughnuts.
Her garbage truck assignment was soon cut short when she inadvertently crossed an intersection without yielding to a general’s marked car. As punishment, she was reassigned to the mess for two months, washing dishes in the scullery and then operating an industrial potato peeler. Then, for the next nine months, she swept Quantico’s streets with a push broom.
Eventually, she was transferred to San Diego, where she got her license back, hauling luggage and shuttling male Marines to their training grounds. When the war ended, Randy was reassigned to San Francisco, where she made train reservations for returning soldiers. By the time she was discharged in August 1946, she had attained the rank of sergeant.
After discharge, Randy and Mo went together to take the qualification exam for United Airlines. Mo became a reservation agent, while Randy went to Chicago for stewardess training. She flew out of Salt Lake City and then out of Los Angeles, getting to know the UCLA football team by doing their flights for a season. (She remains an ardent UCLA fan.) She also flew some chartered flights for Bob Hope, “but we didn’t become friends,” she says. “He was a very private man.” She continued to work for United for 15 years and rose through the ranks, eventually becoming chief stewardess in Los Angeles.
Randy found her military experience helped her in the real world. “The Marine Corps did me a lot of good,” she reflects. “I think I learned respect for my job and for others.”
In 1955, Randy met Terry Tidmore, a handsome salesman, at a New Year’s Eve party in L.A. That year, she recalls, he was “drunk and married,” but when she saw him again at the next New Year’s, he was “sober and divorced.” In February, he called her and asked if she would go away with him for a weekend. She refused: “I don’t even know you.” He called back with another offer: dinner at the Biltmore Hotel. After dinner and dancing, they went for coffee at a drive-in at Western Avenue and Wilshire, where they sat and talked until 4 a.m. A month later, he asked her to marry him. She said no.
But five years later, when he asked her again, she said yes. She remembers thinking, “He’s not going to go away, and I don’t want him to.”
They married two minutes after midnight on July 4, 1960, in Winterhaven, California. Randy, who was then 38, left her job at United, as married women were required to do at the time. In 1965, the couple started a successful vine-ripened tomato farm in Baja California, Mexico, 200 miles south of San Diego. Terry ran the daily operations at the ranch, and Randy managed the business side from home. Late on Friday nights, she would drive down, with enough cash in the trunk to pay the farm workers and her two boxers, Jezebel (Jez) and Fatima (Tima), a mother-daughter duo, riding in the backseat.
In 1979, Terry died. Randy ran the farm herself until 1986.
After retirement, she stayed active through dancing, and she and her teacher reached the finals at a national competition in New York for their tango.
Now 96, she enjoys Pilates and recently tried indoor skydiving alongside her nine-year-old step-great-grandson. And she continues to put her driving skills to good use by venturing on road trips. “I loved—and I still love—to drive,” she says.
Madeleine Joung is a staff writer for the magazine of The Harvard Crimson.