EYEWITNESS NEWS (WBRE/WYOU) — A Susquehanna County woman who served our country in the Air Force now spends her time making sure that no veteran is forgotten.
Janice Gavern is a keeper of history focusing on the important role of women in the military.
A Woman’s American Legion hat was the “smoking gun” that helped uncover the story of an “all-woman” legion post in Scranton.
“Janice Gavern” a United States Air Force “Vietnam Era” Veteran has been researching the stories of military women and men from northeastern Pennsylvania for the past 15 years.
She started with women veterans in her own family.
“I asked my cousin to send me her grandmother’s picture. Her grandmother was Mary (Mae) Seese,” said Gavern.
A World War Two veteran, from Scranton this is her American Legion hat from the 1960’s.
“This is the kind of hat that is worn by the deputy commander in the district in the American Legion,” says Gavern.
By tracking down the number on the hat Gavern identified Oost 550 the Gladys Watkins American Legion Post in Scranton.
“They were a paper post, so they didn’t have a building but they had many many members,” added Gavern.
At one time, they had 117 members.
“These were World War I, Korean War, and WWII Veterans i mean to me that was remarkable, to find out. When I discovered that, I’m going to make sure that their stories get told,” explained Gavern.
The vice chairwoman of the Women’s Veterans Committee takes any opportunity she can to share her research.
Writing columns in the Lackawanna Historical Society Journal giving presentations at “Gino J. Merli Veterans Center” and bringing her display to community events.
Gladys Watkins was born in Wales. Her family moved to the U.S. when she was 2-year-old.
She became a nurse at Moses Taylor Hospital before the Great War broke out.
That’s when Watkins and fellow nurses enlisted in the army.
“Gladys Watkins was one of the ones that were sent to the front lines in France,” continued Gavern.
“She literally was there for about a month, when she contracted Spanish influenza and died of it,” said Gavern.
After the war, her friends in Scranton got together to create an American Legion Post and name it in honor of Gladys Watkins.
When Gavern asked around about Post 550 no one had ever heard about it.
“The post didn’t have a building, so nobody knew that they existed,” says Gavern.
Until the post got the newspaper interested in taking pictures.
“There’s no record that I can find of what they were doing from when the post literally started in 1920, except for little brief intervals up until the 1930s,” added Gavern.
That’s when the paper started to take notice but still, they weren’t recognized.
“In the paper, information was listed about them on the social news, or the news of interest to women, or the women’s clubs, this was not a woman’s club, these women were veterans,” explained Gavern.
Gavern is determined to discover the names and stories of as many servicewomen from “Post 550” as possible.
She has them registered at the “Military Women’s Memorial” in Arlington, Virginia because history is not complete until every military woman’s story is told.
Janice Gavern hosts the women’s veterans and friends tea at the Gino J. Merli Veterans’ Center in Scranton each spring.