Maple Valley Twins First from Washington State to Serve in the Marine Corps

By Suzanne and Suzette Sayles. Introduction and Compiler: Cary Collins

Suzanne and Suzette in 2018

Suzette and Suzanne Sayles on their new, used bicycles in the spring of 1954. This image was taken in their driveway on Dorre Don Road in Maple Valley.

Identical twins Suzanne and Suzette Sayles, born north of the Columbia River in Woodland, moved into a house on Dorre Don in Maple Valley when they were in the eighth grade. Attending Tahoma schools from 1953 to 1957, they then relocated again after their father, Charles Sayles, who was a Boeing Aircraft tube bender, was transferred, which resulted in them graduating from Everett High School in 1958. Confronted with two options upon graduation – either going to college or finding a job – a fortuitous encounter with a Marine Corps recruiter in their senior year turned into a three-year enlistment for each of them in the Woman Marines. “It seemed like an adventure and the government would pay for your education so that is what we did,” Suzanne and Suzette explained in a recent interview from their homes in central California. “Our parents thought it was a good idea, time to leave the nest, so to speak.” As the first set of twins from Washington State to serve in the Marine Corps, they generated considerable public interest and were featured in several news stories. Of their time spent in Maple Valley, the sisters remember those years fondly. “A paradise,” is how Suzette characterizes the town, recounting her and Suzanne fishing “in the ice cold water of the Cedar River,” riding their bicycles down to the grocery store at the bottom of the hill, interacting in school with their “very friendly” classmates, and watching pilot Alvin “Tex” Johnson’s test flight of the first Boeing 707 at nearby Renton Field. The following is a brief account written by Suzanne and Suzette describing some of their experiences in the Marine Corps.

 

Suzanne and Suzette Sayles of Maple Valley were the first set of twins enlisted in the Marine Corps from Washington State on their 18th birthday, August 25, 1958. They were looking forward to serving their country and adventure and travel. It was their first airplane ride, leaving September 12 from Seattle to Chicago, Atlanta, and Savannah.

At that time, the authorized strength of the Woman Marines was one percent of the total strength of the Marine Corps. Woman Marines were assigned military duties that included but were not limited to administration, aerology, communications, disbursing, instruction, machine accounting, personnel administration classification, informational services, and supply.

Recruit training for the enlisted women at Parris Island, South Carolina, covered six weeks during which women were indoctrinated in the fundamentals of service life, discipline, pride and love of Corps and country. Graduate recruits were immediately assigned to a four-week General Office Procedures course. This provided the woman Marine with the opportunity to learn typing or improve her typing skills and to learn the administration of office procedures of the Marine Corps. In addition, the course included many hours of English grammar, spelling, and other refresher subjects. Although the number of women in the peacetime Marine Corps was always relatively small, their primary mission was attained by section and training, which provided the Marine Corps with a continuing nucleus of well-trained professional-minded women ready the meet mobilization needs. At that time, women did not take weapons training.

The future Lady Leathernecks arrived at the Receiving Station, in Savannah that night and were transported by bus to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island to start their training in the Woman Marine Recruit Training Battalion, the only such unit in the Marine Corps. The next day they put away their civilian attire and were issued olive green fatigues.

Instructors of special subjects taught the recruits Marine Corps Administration, History and Traditions of the Marine Corps, Customs and Courtesies, First Aid, Uniform Regulations, Parades, Reviews and Ceremonies and the like.

Uniforms were issued. Skirts were 2” below the knee. You were expected to wear a girdle and nylons still had seams. The seams were expected to be straight. Head cover brim had to be exactly two fingers width from the top of the eyebrows. There was only one shade of Revlon red lipstick permitted. Hair could touch, but not cover, the collar. Sturdy oxford shoes were issued, and expected to be spit-shined at all times. Smoking was permitted when the “smoking pot” was lit.

During the early part of training, all recruits were weighed. Those found to be overweight were placed on a diet prepared by a US Navy doctor. You were assigned to the “chubbies” line in the Mess Hall. Each week the girls were reweighed and a careful check was kept.

There were many drills and inspections, Male Drill Instructors taught women Marine recruits the fundamentals of close-order drill in 50 hours throughout basic training. Bunks were stretched tight so that a coin would bounce off of them. Sheets were turned down and measured with a ruler. Parris Island was quite swampy and buggy and the worst part of inspection was standing at attention with gnats swarming around your eyes and ears. Suzette remembers saluting with the drill sergeant shouting in her face “Private Sayles have you sighted land yet?” It was difficult to keep a straight face.

Tests included swimming 100-yards freestyle, treading water for 30 seconds using hands and feet, and floating on your back using hands and feet as auxiliary supports.

Being average girls they may have thought they knew how to clean a house, but Woman Marines soon learned that the Marine Corps had its own way, which was Field Night. While each girl was responsible for her own area and each had a daily cleaning detail, on Field Night all worked to clean the barracks from top to bottom. Windows were washed, walls were scrubbed, and floors were waxed and buffed. Brass, and there was plenty of it in the barracks, was made to shine like mirrors. Field Night was held every Friday.

During the final training week, the platoon headed for Elliott’s Beach to learn recognition of various gases and defensive action during atomic, biological, or chemical attack. Each recruit was fitted with a protective mask. A walk through the teargas filling chamber with and without the mask proved its effectiveness.

Following the six weeks of recruit training, Woman Marines moved to the General Office Procedures Course Barracks. These four weeks were probably the most enjoyable part of the training at Parris Island. The girls enjoyed more freedom and were no longer referred to as “recruits” but “students.” During this period, they studied business English, spelling, filing, correspondence, the Marine Corps Directive System, typing, general office procedures, and publications.

After completing Office Procedures School, Suzanne was assigned to the Classification Processing and Testing Center at Parris Island. At recruit Classification Processing and Testing Center, a full working day was spent determining each recruit’s experience, qualifications, and skills. Special tests were administered and each recruit was interviewed. The results of those tests and interviews helped determine their MOS and duty assignment after recruit training.

Suzette was assigned to the Office Procedures School as a clerk typist, the same school that she had just graduated from at Parris Island.

Suzette’s second year of enlistment was at the Sixth Marine Corps Reserve & Recruitment District in Atlanta, Georgia. She was one of two women assigned there at that time. One day, suffering with a sore throat, she reported to sick bay and was diagnosed with the mumps. Immediately, an ambulance was ordered, and for treatment she was sent to the nearest US Army base from Atlanta. Upon her arrival there it was apparent that most of the women dependents being treated were pregnant. There were two groups that shouldn’t be around a person contagious with the mumps, men and pregnant women! Oops, they had to come up with another solution. That’s how Suzette ended up in isolation in a US Army brig until she recovered. Oh, that adventure and travel!

Both completed their two-year active enlistment commitment and one year of reserve and returned to Maple Valley honorably discharged to go on to long careers and more adventure and travel with two major airlines, Suzette a flight attendant with TWA for 27 years and Suzanne a stewardess with American Airlines for forty years.

Now, sixty years later, both live in central California with a little less travel, enjoying adventure with hobbies of watercolor, photography, genealogy, horticulture, and calligraphy and still proud to have served this country in the USMC.