Dorothy Lessig, 100 year old WWII Veteran

Dorothy Lessig, 100 year old WWII Veteran

The third stanza of the poem “The Rainy Day,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, goes this way;

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining:
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining:
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life, some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

The metaphor is clear, while some days are dark and dreary, it is also true that the sun is still shining above the clouds, and the clouds eventually pass. When one looks over the length of one’s life, one can see that there has been both some share of sunshine and some share of rain. The deeper message, too, is that everything depends on how one looks at the whole tenor of one’s life. Yes, there are periods of rain or darkness or dreariness in every life, but there is also sunshine, and lots of it. How one reacts to them is key.

Dorothy Lessig recently turned 100 years old. She has had a long life that certainly reflects the theme of Longfellow’s poem. She was the oldest of four children when her father abandoned the family. Her mother abandoned them as well a few years later. They were turned over by their Lutheran pastor to their maternal grandparents, who were renting a farm, but Lessig doesn’t talk about that much, except to say that, as the oldest of the siblings, she essentially took on much of the responsibility of raising her siblings. This all happened within the context of the Depression as well.

When Pearl Harbor was bombed, she joined the Navy and became a Pharmacist's Mate. That rate is now called a Hospital Corpsman. As such, she was stationed at Naval Hospital Key West, Florida. In a recent Fox News article, she says of that time, “Ships would come in, and we would get people and field dress them. We called it field dressing even though they were in the Navy. We would stabilize them and then send them on closer to their homes.” She says that, though she was a woman working in a mostly male environment, she felt confident working there. She remembered that working in the Hospital Corps was better “because the guys that were working with us were really great.”

After WWII, she taught for a couple of years in a country school in her home state of Minnesota. She met a man and got married, and they moved to Wisconsin to farm and had 8 children. Today, she has 15 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren. But she did not escape the experience of having some rain in her life here and there either. She was asked in the Fox News interview what her happiest moment was in her long life, and she responded that it was when her first son was born. But she would face some challenging moments too. One of her sons would commit suicide, and her husband died when she was 57 and still raising kids. She has been widowed for 43 years.

But, just as she had before, she would endure and move on from those dark, dreary moments with a positive determination of her own. At the age of 49, given her background in the Navy as a Hospital Corpsman, she decided to enter nursing school. She would earn a degree as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) and work mostly in obstetrics for the next two decades, until she was 72. In order to keep fit, she started square dancing at age 65 and danced up until she was 92.

Dorothy Lessig has had her rainy days, yes, but there has been plenty of sunshine in her long life as well. Lessig is not, and has never been, famous or rich. She did not do things that moved or shook the world, but she has led, in her own way, a heroic life. Because “into each life some rain must fall," we are all challenged to confront the suffering that comes into each of our lives in some fashion. In that sense, this feisty, hard-working, self-sacrificing, 100-year-old WWII veteran can teach us all some positive lessons about how to live well. Yes, rainy days come, but they do not determine the tenor of our lives. It is the attitudes we choose to live out of that make all the difference.

We congratulate WWII veteran Dorothy Lessig on achieving the noble age of 100. We wish her continued good health and many more sunny days.

Dan Doyle

Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.

Back to blog