By Kelly Hargett
From 1941 to 1945, as America was heavily involved in World War II, Mrs. Zona Winfree Carter, was busy compiling a scrapbook. Every time she saw someone who hailed from Kernersville mentioned in a local paper, she clipped the article and placed it in her scrapbook. Over time, her scrapbook grew thick with newspaper snippets about soldiers deploying, coming home on leave, being promoted, and even being captured or killed in action. After the war was over, the scrapbook remained with the Winfree family as a reminder of the personal sacrifices those from Kernersville endured during the war.
Years would pass, but eventually, Gary Winfree, along with his sister, Sharon Winfree Caudle, would decide to donate the scrapbook to the Kernersville Museum. “The scrapbook is a wonderful piece of history for the Museum. So many folks from Kernersville were part of the war effort,” says Jessica Bierman, the Executive Director of the Kernersville Museum*. The scrapbook itself is a testament to the town and its efforts during the war. Looking through it you will find plenty of familiar names and some that are maybe not so familiar, but all of the people in the scrapbook had roots right here in Kernersville. Many of the snippets just begin to scratch the surface of a more interesting tale, which was the case for Virginia Dean Tucker’s story.
As part of the Kernersville Museum’s social media presence, the staff looks for pictures to use by searching for popular posts such as “Throw Back Thursdays” on Facebook. It was just such a post that brought us the story of Virginia Dean Tucker. Looking through the scrapbook, Jessica stumbled upon a picture of a pretty lady dressed in her uniform. The snippet of information accompanying the picture gave the lady’s name, Virginia Metcalf, and details of her recent promotion in WAC (Women’s Auxiliary Commission). Snapping a picture of the photo, Jessica posted the picture to Facebook. Little did she know Virginia’s son, Tony Dean, would see the picture and get in touch with the Museum. He was happily surprised to see his mother’s picture on Facebook and upon contacting the Museum offered her uniform and some other information about her for display.
As it turns out, our Virginia Dean Tucker (formerly Metcalf) led an interesting life, to say the least. At the age of 20, Virginia enlisted in the United States Army and served as a surgical technician in the 97th Women’s Auxiliary Corps (WAC) during World War II. The Women’s Auxiliary Corps was comprised of the first women, other than nurses, to serve with the ranks of the United States Army. WAC was crucial to the nation’s success during WWII. For Virginia, it meant that she completed twelve weeks of training as a surgical technician and finished out her time in the service as the war came to an end. However, as World War II ended, the Cold War was just beginning. Virginia probably believed that she was done with the U.S. Army when she was officially honorably discharged. Once she left the service, she went to work for Western Electric Company.
But it was here that the U.S. Army would come back into her life. While working at Western Electric Company from 1947 until 1968, Virginia gained military clearance and worked on the Nike Zeus Missile Project. This project was the U.S. Army’s first antiballistic missile. During the Cold War, the United States faced a new threat of long-range aircraft and long-range missiles being developed by the Soviet Union. In response to these new threats, the United States government began to rely on nuclear weapons and strategic airpower in an effort to discourage any Soviet military threats. By the 1950s, the United States began work on strategic antiballistic missile systems and Western Electric Company was commissioned to examine the prospect of developing such equipment. Later on, they were to produce the hardware used to make system.
Although we do not know the extent of Virginia’s role in the project, we do know that this small town native of Kernersville played a part in the larger global narrative in world history. From her role in World War II to her work on the Nike Zeus Missile Project, Virginia’s story may have been missed had it not been for Mrs. Zona Winfree Carter’s diligently kept scrapbook during the 1940s.
From a dutifully collected scrapbook, to the story of many World War II heroes, the Kernersville Museum has many stories to tell about the people of Kernersville. If you would like to find out more about people who have made Kernersville what it is today, please plan a visit. The Museum’s first permanent exhibit will be open during the first weekend of May to coincide with Spring Folly. We look forward to uncovering more stories about the people of Kernersville and sharing them with you.
*Around the time of outbreak Kernersville’s population was around 2,103. The scrapbook lists at least 4 as MIA, 12 KIA and 2 POWs.