2017-02-21 / Front Page

A quilt of valor

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World War II WAVE honored for her service
By Tammy Wells
Senior Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD — Marie Reine (Lessard) Fournier was 25 years old in the fall of 1943, when she joined the U.S. Naval Reserve. The Biddeford native, born and raised on Elm Street in the shadow of St. Joseph’s Church, was doing office work when she felt the need for a change.

America had entered World War II in December 1941. Less than a year later, in August, 1942, a program called Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service — WAVES — was created.

Fournier had seen some photographs of WAVES in the newspaper and had learned about their mission.

“I felt it would be interesting,” Fournier, now 98 years old, said Saturday from an easy chair in the home on the quiet Biddeford street she shares with her husband, Robert Fournier. “I (felt) if they can do it, why can’t I?”

Fournier received her basic training at Hunter College in the Bronx, New York and in Stillwater, Oklahoma — and then it was back to New York, where she worked in the transportation unit at  Sampson Naval Training Base in Seneca County.

Her service to her country 70 years ago was  recognized on Saturday, when she was wrapped in a Quilt of Valor by the Maine coordinator of the program, Donna Brookings.

Quilts of Valor is a program established in 2003, by a mother whose son was deployed in Iraq. The purpose, according to the program's mission statement, is to “cover” veterans touched by war with a quilt. Including Fournier’s quilt, crafted in patriotic colors of red, white and blue, 152,618 have been made and presented.

The event at the Fournier household was a family affair, with children and nieces and nephews stopping by from near and far. One of  her daughters,  Janet Davis lives locally, while the other, Sandra Streitberger, who lives in Florida, flew up for the occasion.

Fournier talked a bit about her service and her early years prior to the presentation, with her family members adding details — like the circumstances of her birth in 1918, at home, in a tenement near the church, said Streitberger. The infant Marie Reine was very tiny when she was born and her mother wrapped her in a blanket, put her in a shoebox and tucked baby and box behind the stove to keep warm. The following day, her father took the tiny infant to a local store, and she was placed on a meat scale and weighed, Streitberger said. The scale read two pounds.

Despite her shaky start, Fournier has lived a long life. In fact, she is the last remaining of her five sisters and a brother.

Her brother also served during World War II. One of the stories shared Saturday was how Fournier tells family members she saved her brother's life during the war.

Reynald Paul Lessard, called “Major Junior,” after his father, was also in the Navy. Fournier was doing clerical work in the radio department of her unit. Her boss needed a radio operator, and her brother had experience. After a phone call,  her brother’s orders were changed. She later learned the ship her brother had been scheduled to ship out on had been sunk.

When she decided to join the U.S. Naval Reserve, her mother was distraught, and cried right up to the day she left for basic training, Fournier recalled.

"I never cried," she said. She  promised her mother she'd return.

When her hitch was over in 1947, she kept that promise and returned home to Biddeford.

These days, she and her husband, who toured America and Europe during the course of  their lives together, enjoy life at home. 

While at times Fournier's memory falters, she remembers her years serving her country with fondness. 

“I missed the Navy; I wished I’d stayed in,” she said.

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or twells@journaltribune.com.

 

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