The shy soldier slipped the handwritten note in front of the attractive blonde receptionist. Before she could respond, he disappeared into the throngs of workers flooding into the newly opened Pentagon. Eethel Johnson unfolded it and read, “Because: 1. Of your unfailing courtesy 2. Your ready smile 3. Your general build-up, the general has ordered me to take you out to dinner.” This was not the first nor the last time she received offers for wartime romance. Unfortunately for the lovesick serviceman, Eethel was already happily married to Everett, the boyfriend who had encouraged her move from Des Moines, Iowa to Washington, D.C. to work for the war effort during World War II.
The letter was just one piece of memorabilia Eethel shared as we discussed her work at the Pentagon. Because of her Glamour Girl looks, Eethel was singled out by photographers for publicity shots, articles, and advertising. The black and white stills clearly show a vibrant, stylish, and focused young woman. She took her job at the War Department seriously, made friends with co-workers, military officials, and celebrities (Melvyn Douglas and Horace Heidt among them) easily, and eventually parlayed her wartime office skills into postwar business success, including opening a thrift store in her retirement community when she was 93 years old.
A manila folder filled with clippings, postcards, and invitations cannot hold the complexity of wartime excitement, sorrows, anxieties, and adventures. But Eethel’s collection and stories do offer a brief glimpse into the fun of working a high profile position at the Pentagon as well as how local media approached Government Girls as a novelty.
Eethel stayed and raised her family in the Washington area after the war. She passed away in early 2018.