Bea Arthur, as she is now known, used to be on Broadway stages before she became one of the Golden Girls named Dorothy Zbornak on the once popular television sitcom.
Records buried in the Official Military Personnel Files in the National Archives in St. Louis, Missouri tell another story about Frankel, or Arthur, if you prefer. She used to be a U.S. Marine.
On February 13, 1943, the Marine Corps issued a call to women, “Be a Marine . . . Free a Man to Fight.” The Corps had established the Women’s Reservists, making them the last branch of the military to allow women to enlist.
Corps Commandant General Thomas Holcomb had his reservations, but in spite of that, the Corps began a program to put women in as many positions as possible, enabling male Marines to join combat units. The public wanted to call them something like Glamarines or Femarines, but the salty old General Holcomb wouldn't hear of it. “They don’t have a nickname and they don’t need one. . . . They inherit the traditions of Marines. They are Marines." It turned out he wasn't quite on the money with his remark. In my day, twenty years after the War, they were officially known as WMs (Women Marines), but were more popularly referred to as "BAMs." That stood for "Broad A** Marines." We weren't politically correct in those days.
More than 20,000 enlisted by the end of World War II and though they served in noncombat roles, they played a vital role in the Marine Corps during the war. Just five days after the call went out, on February 18, 1943, Bernice Frankel enlisted.
The daughter of immigrants (her mother was Austrian and her father Polish), she was born in in New York, but the family moved to Maryland, where Arthur graduated from high school. After high school, she attended Blackstone College in Blackstone, Virginia for a year, then returned home to Maryland where she worked for several months as a food analyst testing products for mold and bacteria.
Later, she moved to New York and worked various jobs and volunteered in the civilian war effort as an air-raid warden.
Two months before her 21st birthday, she had to obtain her parents’ consent to enlist. Times have changed!
The enlistment process was a long one for women. The Women Reservists were so new that the Marine Corps hadn’t even created the necessary paperwork and enlisted women using Navy paperwork.
She became Private Frankel on February 20, 1943.
She attended the first Women Reservists school at Hunter College in New York and spent 1944 and 1945 at the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point, North Carolina where she worked as a driver and a dispatcher. She was discharged in September of 1945, after having reached the rank of Staff Sergeant. After her discharge she attended dramatics school and the rest was history.