“One of our Nations’ first Woman Marines”
Barbara Bregoff was born in El Segundo, California on November 25, 1918. El Segundo is a city in Los Angeles County located on the Santa Monica Bay.
Barbara was the last of five children born to Benjamin and Freida Budworth, and the only girl. After the birth of Barbara, her father, Benjamin purchased an apple ranch in Sebastapool, California. Growing up with four older brothers, Benjamin, Walter, Fredrick and David was a challenge for the only girl in the family. Her brothers played rough and Barbara had to learn to be “street smart” to keep up with them.
As she describes it, a restless spirit helped her find a way to put herself through college by packing a lot of apples at 25 cents an hour. She also applied to the National Youth Administration and received $25 a month from them for her education. Her mother, who was especially devoted to one of her older brothers, said she wasn’t going to help her, declaring “You’re not going to make it anyway!”
After finishing college, she told her mother that she was going to San Francisco to get a job. Her mother’s response was, “Nice girls don’t go to the city alone.” She responded, “Goodbye Mom” and off she went to find work. She describes what a thrill it was for a young girl to experience places like the “Top of the Mark”, Finocchio’s, and the Copacabana.
When the United States entered World War II many young people left San Francisco leaving the 4F’s behind. An older brother joined the Army and was sent to Africa. Barbara joined the Marines on a train headed for the East Coast, ending up at Hunter College in the Bronx, New York for basic training. The Marines did not have boot camp for women at that time and so they used Hunter College as their Naval Training School for enlisted women.
From there she was sent to the Naval Air Station in Atlanta, Georgia, for instrument flight training. There was no air conditioning and it was difficult to concentrate on her studies, but she managed to graduate and was sent to Cherry Point, North Carolina, Control Towers and Station Operations. She preferred Operations because it involved working among people coming and going.
The United States Marine Corps Women’s Reserve was the World War II women’s branch of the United States Marine Corps. It was authorized by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on 30 July 1942, but the Marine Corps delayed its formation until 13 February 1943. The law provided that members of the Reserve could be commissioned or enlisted in such ranks and ratings equal to the regular Marine Corps; effective for the duration of the war plus six months. Its purpose was to release officers and men for combat and to replace them with women in shore stations.
Seventy-nine women Marines, including Barbara, were sent to work out in the “boonies” at a location where fighter pilots were trained. They were housed in a new building with no window shades, so they soaped the glass to foil the “Peeping Toms”. There were bugs everywhere. At the mess hall they watched the cooks brush cockroaches off the bread loafs before they sliced them, or they might see a shirtless, sweaty, hairy G.I. bent over a bucket into which he was cracking soon-to-be cooked eggs. The women Marines were hungry, so they lined up right along with the men to be fed.
It was a long walk from Barbara’s barracks to Operations where she was in charge of signing off flight plans. One day as she walked along, a plane flew by close to the ground and the pilot called out, “Barbara, how about a date?” The young pilots were inclined to perform dare-devil tactics. They often couldn’t resist “dogfights”. On one flight an Army pilot from another field collided near by decapitating another pilot with his wing tip. All that night they were haunted by the anguished screams they heard from the young pilot who had killed his best friend. Equally horrifying was another time when a pilot trainee crashed near the Operations Tower. The burning plane was so hot that his body couldn’t be removed leaving the Marines in Operations with the odor of burning flesh and with the heat and swirling bugs circling the single light bulb overhead.
After two years, she found that she had enough of the East Coast, so she transferred to the Marine Air Station at Santa Barbara, California. There she worked on a flight desk in support of famous Marine fighter pilots, Major Joe Foss and Major Gregory “Pappy” Boyington. She was promoted to NCO in charge of station operations.
Joe Foss was a United States Marine Corps major and the leading Marine fighter ace in World War II. He was awarded the Medal of Honor in recognition of his role in the air combat during the Guadalcanal Campaign. In postwar years, he was an Air National Guard brigadier general and served as the 20th Governor of South Dakota. He was President of the National Rifle Association, and the first Commissioner of the American Football League. He died January 1, 2003 at the age of 87-years old.
Major Gregory “Pappy” Boyington was a United States Marine Corps fighter ace during World War II. He was awarded the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross. In September 1943, he took command of Marine Fighter Squadron VMF-214 (Black Sheep).
“The Black Sheep Squadron exploits were dramatized in the TV Series, called Baa Baa Black Sheep, loosely based on memoirs of Boyington, from 1976 to 1978 starring Robert Conrad”.
In January 1944, Boyington, outnumbered by Japanese “Zero” airplanes, was shot down into the Pacific Ocean after downing one of the enemy planes. He was captured by a Japanese submarine crew and was held prisoner of war for more than a year. He was released shortly after the surrender of Japan. He died January 11, 1988 at the age of 75-years old.
While stationed in Santa Barbara, Barbara had little interface with Boyington but she came to know Joe Foss very well. He would keep his flying skills, up-to-date by flying up and down the California coast “dive-bombing” at seals along the coast. He would take Barbara with him sometimes and she was able to enjoy the thrill of riding in a fighter plane.
When the war ended, she left the service, and married Robert Bregoff who died in 1970. They had three sons, Robert, Frank and Bradley. She has three grandchildren. Her restless spirit sent her back to college in her sixties where she became a serious student of modern psychology. Years later she joined the Peace Corps and spent two years in a southern Luzon village with no conveniences. She found that it was tough in the remote corners of the world. She lived through a typhoon, slept without a mattress and drank warm beer rather than take chances on water. She complained bitterly to officials when she discovered that some of the 13 and 14-year girls in her community were being sold into prostitution. She realized, however, that her indignation was unlikely to alter the practice. Yet, in this and in other efforts that fell short, she remained practical. She knew that she and the other members of the Peace Corps would not win all the battles. She, like the others, just wanted to win the war.
Today, she confirms that “thinking thin” and “not watching TV” is her secret to staying young