Donna-Mae Smith First Woman Bugler
in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps
SOUNDING HER FINAL NOTE
By Jennifer Mathis www.newsreview.info
It’s one thing to wake up at 5 o’clock each morning. It’s another thing to wake up at 5 o’clock and sound the trumpet an hour later. During her time in the Army, Donna-Mae Smith was responsible for waking the Army and keeping it on schedule with bugle calls. She played the trumpet but was known as a bugler because of the bugle songs she played.Smith was the Army’s first female bugler while a member of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in 1942 at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. Smith, 86, retires today from playing taps for veterans, a role she filled for 13 years after she and her late husband retired in Sutherlin some 15 years ago. The American Women’s Veterans Association will honor her at a ceremony for the service she gave to her comrades, their families and the community.“We just hate losing her as a bugler,” said AWVA member Dona Brewer of Roseburg. “Everyone seeks her out to play taps for their loved ones.” Smith was asked to play bugle calls at funerals after moving to Sutherlin. Over the years, she’s played at hundreds of burials for veterans of Douglas County. Last year she played at 108 funerals with an average of three a week, sometimes on the same day and back-to-back. She quit playing earlier this year due to asthma.Her early days in the military came during the middle of World War II, from 1942 to 1943. She was part of the WAAC training center’s band, whose purpose was to recruit women for the WAAC (later renamed the Women’s Army Corps) and train band members for posts that were opening in other states. Smith said she joined the Army because she wanted to help save the country.
“I found it my duty to be patriotic,” she said.It didn’t hurt, either, that she loved playing trumpet.She was first chair solo trumpet in the band and traveled to nearby states in efforts to recruit.“They didn’t expect WAAC to be as big of a success as it was,” Smith said.
Recruiting efforts were so fruitful that Fort Des Moines had to be expanded to accommodate an additional 5,000 women. Brewer said of Smith, “She broke ground for a lot of women — not only to join the military but to be proud of who they are as women veterans.” Dodie Blessing of Umpqua, president of AWVA, said Smith was one of many women in the service during the war who paved the way for generations of women.During her military stint she had the opportunity to meet Eleanor Roosevelt, first lady at the time, who visited Smith’s post.
“She was a very gracious lady,” Smith said.It was love, she remembers, that caused her to leave the military in 1943. She married Cpl. Robert Burr, the man who gave Smith her own wake-up calls 30 minutes before she was set to play reveille. She chose to reenter civilian life and follow her husband to his postings. A sergeant in the Army, she had the opportunity to attend Warrant Officer’s school and turned it down, a decision she said she later regretted. “I could’ve gone further in the service,” she said. “Sometimes when we’re young, we don’t understand the importance of schooling.” She and Burr had two sons, Kevin and Craig.Burr died in 1955 and Smith married Edgar Smith a year later. They retired to Sutherlin from Nevada and Smith died in 1996.In 1997, decades after leaving the service, Smith was invited to Washington, D.C., to play with the U.S. Army Band in a performance for the dedication of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. The memorial, built to honor female veterans, stands at the gateway to the national cemetery in Arlington, Va.“It was quite an honor,” Smith said.
In her retirement, Smith said she plans to paint china and decorative plates, a hobby she has been pursuing for 23 years.While she has no plans to sell her work, she said if someone wants to buy something, she would sell it.
Looking back at her time in the Army, Smith feels satisfied that she was able to do something for her country and remembers with fondness the time she spent playing in the band.“I have the same emotions when I play for the veterans, and their families, who have passed on,” she said.
Donna-Mae was inducted into the buglers hall of fame in 2009.
BUGLERS HALL OF FAME
Donna Mae Smith passed away in Roseburg, Oregon on Saturday, April 3, 2010 and was buried at Roseburg VA National Cemetery with full military honors. She was 90 years old.