By Leigh Ann Rutledge
May 21, 2013
For Norma Rankin, “Once a Marine, Always a Marine” applies to her daily life.
Rankin, 78, sat in a private dining room in Great Trail Care Center in Minerva recently, vividly remembering left, left, left, right, left and reliving drill one, drill two.
Rankin enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in September 1952, and served three years in the armed forces. Born and raised in Charleston, WV, Rankin’s father served in Belgium and France, in the Army during World War I. She wanted a college education and enlisted, leaving from Huntington, WV, heading for basic training at Paris Island, SC.
While at Paris Island, she was a member of the Honor Platoon, marching at graduation ceremonies. The group would practice two hours a day, marching in a direct line with their head turned to the right toward the commanding officer.
When the women were marching in the Honor Platoon, they wore nylons with a seam up the back. Laughing, Rankin tells the story of a Marine from Hawaii who did not have seamed hose and used eyeliner to draw a seam. “She got caught,” she said.
After graduation, she was sent to Camp Cherry Point, NC, where she worked as a credit officer in the Commissioned Officers Mess. She operated a bookkeeping machine called a postagraph. She was required to place a piece of paper into the machine, enter the amount of each officer’s purchase and print it out.
During this time, she attended the Marine Corps Institute in Virginia for three-months, studying math before being stationed at Camp Lejeune, SC.
Always busy, she worked a temporary assignment in the mail office filing mail and putting through change of addresses for enlisted men and officers for the base post office. She spent a period working in government housing pairing service personnel with housing in one of three housing options. It was during her next assignment that she found her niche. She began working for The News Reporter, the local paper for the base, proofreading IBM print lists of personnel.
“The printouts were on big computer paper,” Rankin said. “It was such an eye strain verifying military personnel’s names and addresses from sheet to sheet.”
She decided to continue her education and received IBM computer training in 1954. Working the computer then required you to memorize code language of 100 words. From those 100 words, Rankin said you had a vocabulary of 1,000 words. There was a cup on the computer where Rankin wrapped the paper around. She would type local news, personal information such as rank, serial number, and family information, for both enlisted and officers.
“We might type a welcome notice for someone returning from Korea or list transfers,” explained Rankin. “You had to know the code language, such as using occupant for house.”
While serving in the Marine Corps kept Rankin busy, she still had time for fun and sightseeing.
“I met a lot of beautiful people while in the Marine Corps,” she noted. “There were a lot of women in the Marines at that time. We had a female drill sergeant.”
She had a group of friends she kept in touch with for a period of time after she was discharged. “Shirley Dunlevery and Gloria Rinehiemer and I had a lot of fun. Shirley was from Ireland originally,” Norma said.
Smiling, she continued, “Gloria was my beer partner. We would sneak over to the United Nations Club, listen to the band, eat supper, and drink a pitcher of beer. We had a lot of fun but we weren’t supposed to be there because it was on the wrong side of the tracks.”
She saw a lot of North Carolina, including Raleigh and Morehead City on the coast. A hurricane came in when she was visiting Morehead City. She volunteered with the Gray Ladies (part of the American Red Cross) and helped do activities and light candles. She also handed out flashlights and glass bottles of milk.
“I had some terrific times when I was in the Marines,” Norma said. “I attended a Marine Corps ball which was for officers only but I was able to go with my date. I was on the dance floor and I saw the officer in charge of all the women on the base dancing. The band played music and at midnight balloons were released.”
As the end of her enlistment arrived, the Private First Class was recommended for re-enlistment, with her choice of assignments, which Rankin said, “Included Camp Pendleton in California.”
Instead, Rankin chose to move to Canton in September 1955, get married and raise a family. In May 1956, she married Charles Kopp, Sr. and moved to a farm in Osnaburg Twp. for around 18 months. Her first child, Charles Jr., was born and the family moved to Canton where Norma spent the next 30 years.
She and her husband raised four children and Norma worked as a file clerk for Noble’s Shoe Store in Canton. The owner of Smith & Phillips Furniture Store on Cleveland Ave. was a Marine. When he discovered Rankin was a Marine, he hired her to be his “Girl Friday” as a “Jack of all trades.” Rankin felt it was the fact she was a Marine and had a good reputation that she was quickly hired.
“I took care of three floors of furniture, checked new stock when it arrived and was the file clerk,” said Rankin. “I also did janitorial work. Often when I was mopping, someone would come into the reception area and I would have to stop to go help them. I wrote a little poem I used to say all the time, “I flop the mop, I push the broom. The buzzer rings, I’ll be there soon.”
Rankin volunteered for the American Red Cross one day a week, helping serve luncheons and answer phones. She dispensed water, drinks, and towels during the Hall of Fame parades.
Charles, Sr. passed away in 1997 and Rankin eventually moved to East Canton where she lived in an apartment until two years ago. Right before she moved to her apartment, she was walking to work and slipped on the ice, injuring her back. Rankin said she fell two years ago and was in the hospital. Since leaving the hospital, she has been staying at Great Trail Care Center and is hoping to be released soon and find an apartment in Minerva or Carroll County.
Norma has four children, Chuck Kopp Jr. of East Rochester, and Chris Kopp, Tracy Kopp and Barbara Fuciu, all of East Canton, and four grandchildren.
Apparently a need to serve runs in the family. Not only did Norma and her father serve in the US military, her sister was in the Air Force and her brother joined the Army and served in France before coming back to Pittsburgh, PA, and starting his own newspaper, “The Citizen.”
Her grandson, Chris Fuciu, is a Marine and served in Afghanistan. Norma smiles and said she thinks her service had something to do with his decision to become a Marine.
Rankin and her children agree military training stayed with her. Her daughter continuously told her, “Mom you can’t get your way all the time.” Rankin admits she is persistent. “When I want something done, I want it done now,” she stated. “I don’t want none of this ‘I’ll do it later.’ I don’t want excuses.”
She also passed her military work ethic on to her children and grandchildren. “My grandson served and came home safe from Afghanistan and my children all know how to work. They are all employed.”
“Once a Marine, Always a Marine,” said Rankin. “ What you learn in the military applies to everything you do in everyday life, work, church, your activities. Everything.”