Memories of 99-year-old WWII Mountain Home Veteran

U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) recognized the service and sacrifice of World War II veteran Edith Mitchell in ‘Salute to Veterans,’ a series recognizing the military service of Arkansans. 

Mitchell was born in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina on December 24, 1921. As a child she became interested in music, a passion she has pursued her entire life. She started piano lessons at the age of nine and later taught herself how to play the organ. She volunteered to play for her church’s services in high school and when she was leaving for college, the pastor gave her money for her years of dedicated organ-playing. “It was exactly the amount that I needed to pay for the first quarter tuition,” Mitchell said.

She graduated from Flora MacDonald College, majoring in voice and public school music with a minor in piano, and used her education to share her love of music.

At her first job teaching in Richlands, North Carolina, many of her students had fathers who were stationed at Camp Lejeune. “The war had already started and I was feeling very patriotic and so I decided to join after I taught there one year.”

She enlisted in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) on September 1, 1943, and was sent to boot camp in what she called “the swamps” outside of Daytona Beach, Florida. “It was a lot of rain,” Mitchell remembers. 

Mitchell tested high in mechanics, but she had never worked in this field, so when she described her background in music, she was assigned to the Chaplain Corps.

Following boot camp, Mitchell traveled by train to her assignment at Camp Stoneman, California, a major staging area for troops bound for the Pacific Theater. She served as a chaplain’s assistant and had a number of responsibilities including writing letters for the chaplains and playing music at the Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish services.

At one pre-embarkation service, Mitchell played the organ and sang the hymn “Ninety and Nine” before a chapel full of servicemembers leaving for World War II operations. Her voice inspired some soldiers to make public professions of faith. She remembers the men walking up the gangplank with the water from their baptism dripping off their backpacks. “It was just one of the greatest experiences of my life,” Mitchell said.

As a member of the Chaplain Corps, Mitchell went to some places most people never went like the prison hospital. “I remember it was scary to go through the locked door, and there I was with all the prisoners. I didn’t know what they had done.”

Shortly after Mitchell’s arrival at Camp Stoneman, she says her mother wanted to do her duty and volunteered as a nurse’s aide at the hospital where some of her patients included survivors of the Bataan Death March. “I’ll never forget the sight,” Mitchell said. “They were nothing but skeletons with skin stretched over them. They could hardly walk. In fact, many of them just had to be carried on a stretcher from the ship to the hospital.”

After completing her military service, Mitchell used her GI Bill benefits to attend Columbia University where she earned a master’s degree in voice and public music. She continued to teach music and met the man who became her husband when he joined her choir.

When the couple retired, they relocated to Mountain Home to be near their granddaughter. Today, Mitchell continues to give voice lessons and be involved in her church.

“Edith Mitchell proudly served her country. As a member of the Greatest Generation, there is a lot we can learn from Americans like Edith Mitchell whose selfless service helped support Allied efforts. I am honored to recognize her service and dedication to our nation. Her memories of her service are an important part of our history,” Boozman said.

Boozman will submit Mitchell’s entire interview to the Veterans History Project, an initiative of the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center to collect and retain the oral histories of our nation’s veterans.