Dorothy “Dot” Cole was the oldest living US Marine veteran when she died on January 7. She was 107 years old.
Cole, who was born in 1913 and grew up in Warren, Pennsylvania, suffered a heart attack in the home they shared in North Carolina, her daughter Beth Kluttz told CNN by phone Saturday
Cole decided she would take a stance to support her country after Japanese forces launched a surprise attack on the Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii on December 7, 1941.
“There were women volunteering with the Red Cross and knitting while sitting in church, so I thought I had to do something,” Cole told the Marine Corps Times in an interview in September. “At the time, I didn’t think I was doing anything great. I knew I was helping our country.”
She was 28 years old in 1943 when she became among the first wave of women to join the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, according to her daughter.
Cole wanted to be like Amelia Earhart, Kluttz said, and had taken flying lessons in hopes of becoming a pilot.
“She thought she would impress the military by taking flying lessons. She had about 200 flying hours in, and flying a Piper Cub, and she thought that would impress the military and the Marine Corps,” Kluttz said. “But when she got in there, they just put her behind the desk.”
She attained the rank of sergeant before leaving the Marines. The Marine Corps paid tribute to Cole in a tweet that ended, “Semper Fi, Marine.”
The US Naval Institute said in a tweet that Cole was the oldest living Marine, and “like most women in the era,” was given clerical work so men could fight in combat. Women became a permanent part of the Marine Corps in 1948, according to the Women Marines Association.
The Marine Corps eventually saw its first female pilot in 1995, according to Military Times. All jobs in the military, including combat roles, were opened to women in 2016.
Cole, also an artist who loved her family and church and highly respected all veterans and first responders, served in the Marines until 1945, Kluttz said.
“She would want to salute all of the veterans for all the service that they’ve done and also the police and firemen,” Kluttz said.
Cole spent her final years at her daughter’s home in Kannapolis, North Carolina. She is survived by her daughter, two grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.