Eleanor Spinola

Eleanor Valentine Spinola (1919-2009)

In 1944 Eleanor Spinola woke to a sound and saw a glowing red light. As she opened a door flames jumped toward her. She alerted her fellow servicewomen and the fifty American and British women rushed outside to safety. She later received the European–African–Middle Eastern campaign medal (EAME), a commendation from Lt. Gen. Mark W. Clark.

Eleanor Valentine Spinola, a daughter of Michael DeFreitas Spinola and Mary Alice Carvalho of Hilo, Hawaii, enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) in March 1943, the first WAC from the territory of Hawaii. Eleanor’s letters to her brother Neal Spinola were written from Algeria and Italy between 1943 and 1945.

In 1943, Eleanor was attending San Diego State College. Five of the eight Spinola siblings joined the war effort while sister Beatrice Spinola worked for the American Red Cross in Honolulu. While in Italy Eleanor met Richard L. Lange, then a Sergeant in the Army Air Force. They married in 1945 and raised five children in Honolulu.

Over 150,000 American women served in the WAC during World War II. They had to prove their effectiveness since many military officials and the American public opposed the effort. The women became a critical force for a military fighting two fronts.

The papers of the Spinola family, a Portuguese family, are housed at the Lyman Museum Archives which is open for research by appointment. Learn more at https://lymanmuseum.org/archives/research-collection/.

(Click on images to enlarge)

Corporal Eleanor Spinola in her U.S. Army uniform, 1944. In a letter on May 19, 1944 to her brother Neal she recalled the muddy day she was honored by General Clark: “[It was] quite an event in my young life.  After all, a three-star general is nothing to be sneezed at, speaking of sneezing, if I’d stood in front of him another few minutes, I bet I would have…. Boy that was a day, the mud was thick, the wind whipping and cold, hair curled so patiently the night before fell down in limp strands, jackets and skirts so carefully pressed over a hot stove, lost their creases and just looked limp. I got stuck in the mud and did a sloppy about face cause I couldn’t get my foot out of it gracefully, ooooh was I embarrassed.”
Letter from Eleanor Spinola to Neal Spinola, January 28, 1944. Eleanor tells Neal that she doesn’t feel like writing, but “that masterpiece of yours does deserve an answer. . . I’ll be due for rotation or T/P [Temporary Pass] about the time the war is pau (done) over here, unless something else comes up. . . I’m quite fed up with the place as it is, so in spite of what it does afford as regards art, literature or anything else, to me it has become lost in mud, cold, dust, + just plain war + its results.”
Eleanor Spinola and friends at the French Riviera, 1945.