Decades after her service in the Women’s Army Corps, there’s no doubt that Emma Pogge emerged relatively unscathed from her experiences in post-war Germany.
Considering the world climate at the time of Pogge’s arrival in 1947, just two years after the conclusion of the war, her fond but not so vivid memories provide a stark contrast to the state of many European nations after the conflict.
The 100-year-old Lawrence resident is one of the oldest World War II female veterans.
Pogge’s anecdotes from the last several decades are often recounted through the help of her husband, Ernest, who serves as an orator for the couple.
But whether she’s doing the telling or her husband is, Pogge brightens when she or someone around her brings up those times.
She likes to brag, when prompted, that she can still fit into the petite tan uniform jacket that she wore as a technical sergeant more than 60 years ago.
“I can (still wear it),” Pogge said with a smile.
Born in Illinois the year the Titanic sank, Pogge didn’t enlist until the age of 31, after working multiple clerical jobs since her high school graduation in 1930.
The soft-spoken woman who, despite diminished hearing, tries to keep her mind sharp with crossword puzzles and spelling games, remembers exactly why she joined the WAC all those years ago.
“Everybody seemed to have boys (in their families), but my mother had five girls” Pogge said. “And so I put my name on the list, and we had somebody in the service.”
A coal miner’s daughter with four sisters, Pogge was sent for training in Colorado, where she served as a typing clerk.
During her time there Pogge maintained her Methodist faith at the on-base chapel and started a choir. She would do stints during the next couple of years at multiple bases across the country, including Iowa, Pennsylvania and Maryland, singing in every chapel along the way.
A table scrapbook from those years contains several black-and-white shots of a younger Pogge, with dark hair and a shy smile.
Numerous photographs also exist of her in a basketball uniform surrounded by her teammates. Aside from immersing herself in her faith, Pogge played and excelled on the basketball court, and was on multiple championship teams.
“I would toss the ball and throw it to the basket and they knew it would go in,” Pogge said proudly.
Pogge was sent to Wiesbaden, Germany, in 1947, at a time when service members were discouraged from interacting with the German people. A teacher at a local Sunday school, Pogge interacted with German children on a regular basis, empathizing with their plight.
“I took care of them,” she said. “I would take food that they (military) would give me and would put it in my pocket and give it to them. They weren’t getting it and they needed it.”
Ernest tells a story Pogge often told him about two brothers who would alternate coming to class each week. When Pogge finally asked why, the boys said they only had one pair of shoes between the two of them.
Within months of being in Germany, Pogge was assigned to the United States Army Corps of Engineers base.
The only woman stationed at that post, Pogge developed a friendship with a particular engineer among the troops, Ernest. The innocent banter between the pair continued when they returned to the States in 1949.
Pogge would serve her last two years of duty working for the Pentagon while Ernest returned to school in Washington.
“Our courtship consisted more of a postal service courtship,” Ernest said.
But in different times, different standards applied, and less than a year later, the Pogges were married on Dec. 20, 1950.
Following her eight years of military spent domestically and abroad, Pogge got out of the service in 1951 and joined her husband in Washington.
When their children, George and Dorothy, were born, Pogge become a stay-at-home-mom, dedicating her time to her children, church and music.
The family of four lived in various states across the Midwest before eventually settling in Lawrence.
Not one for basketball anymore, Pogge started bowling and found interests outside of her home, particularly involving veterans.
Within the past 10 years and since Ernest’s retirement, both have become actively involved with local and area veterans groups, and they go to Branson, Mo., almost every year for Veterans Homecoming week, held the week before Veterans Day.
Pogge is often recognized at several of the ceremonies for her service, including the Annual Rose Petal Ceremony and Women’s Veterans Tribute luncheon.
Pam Mill, the Pogges’ in-home worker for the past year, said it’s been her experience that military women are cut from a different cloth.
“They keep active,” Mill said. “And love to talk about it (the service).”
Pogge counts her blessings every day, mainly attributing her longevity to her faith.
“I’m very fortunate to be still walking on the earth because they (family and friends) are all passed away,” said Pogge, who has lost many family and friends. “I don’t know why God keeps me, why I’m 100 years old and still living, but life’s been so good to me. … I want to live on, but I don’t go around saying that.”