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8 Female Fighters of World War II

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March is Women's History Month, so it's a good time for the overdue followup to the previous post 11 Women Warriors of World War II. Here are eight more women who bravely contributed to the Allied victory in World War II.

1. Lise Børsum: Refugee Smuggler

Lise Børsum was a Norwegian housewife married to an Oslo physician. During World War II she became active in smuggling Jews out of Nazi-occupied nations into Sweden, often through her own home. She and her husband both were arrested in 1943. The doctor was soon released, but Lise Børsum was sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany where she stayed until liberated by the Swedish Red Cross in 1945. Børsum's time in captivity politicized her, and she wrote a book about her arrest, interrogation, and imprisonment that became a best seller. She also served on the National Council Fund to help victims of the war and on a commission to detect and end concentration camps in nations the world over. Børsum kept up her writing and humanitarian work until shortly before her death in 1985. Her daughter Bente became an actress and wrote and performed a stage show about her mother in Norway.

2. Barbara Lauwers: Propaganda Warrior

Barbara Lauwers was born in Czechoslovakia, earned a law degree, and moved to the U.S. with her husband in 1941. She became an American citizen in 1943 and then immediately joined the Women's Army Corps. Lauwers was assigned to the OSS, the precursor of the CIA. In 1944, she was involved in Operation Sauerkraut, which was a propaganda assault to demoralize German soldiers. Fluent in five languages, Lauwers worked to turn German POWs into operatives, and trained them to disseminate rumors among the German Army after their release from Allied custody. Operation Sauerkraut was quite successful, and Lauwers continued to design and supervise propaganda operations in the the European theatre. She trained POWs to gather intelligence and report back to the Allies. Lauwers earned a Bronze Star for convincing six hundred Czech soldiers to turn to the Allies by her propaganda efforts.

3. Annie Fox: Pearl Harbor Nurse

Lt. Annie G. Fox was the chief nurse on duty at Hickam Air Field in Hawaii on December 7, 1941. Fox went into action as the Japanese attack sent wounded soldiers into the hospital while shells continued to fall. For her tireless efforts during and after the attack, Fox became the first woman ever to receive a Purple Heart. The citation read, in part:

“outstanding performance of duty and meritorious acts of extraordinary fidelity. . . During the attack, Lieutenant Fox, in an exemplary manner, performed her duties as head Nurse of the Station Hospital. . . in addition she administered anaesthesia to patients during the heaviest part of the bombardment, assisted in dressing the wounded, taught civilian volunteer nurses to make dressings, and worked ceaselessly with coolness and efficiency, and her fine example of calmness, courage and leadership was of great benefit to the morale of all with whom she came in contact...”

In 1944, when the requirements for the Purple Heart were changed to require battle wounds, the medal was rescinded and Fox was awarded the Bronze Star in its place. Because of Fox's precedent as the first women to receive the Purple Heart, some sources say that she was wounded at Pearl Harbor, but she was not.

4. Violette Szabo: Fearless Spy

Violette Bushell Szabo was raised in England in a British-French family. In 1940, she married French Foreign Legion officer Etienne Szabo. Two years and one daughter later, Etienne was killed in action, and Violette was determined to avenge his death. In 1943, Violette Szabo was recruited by the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and trained as a courier. Her first mission to France was in April of 1944, during which she reorganized a resistance unit, sabotaged roads and bridges, and sent back reports by radio. Szabo was arrested twice, and talked her way out both times. Her second mission in June was just after the D-Day invasion. Szabo parachuted into France, led a local resistance unit in sabotaging German communications, and then encountered a roadblock. She was arrested and interrogated under torture, but gave up no damaging information. Szabo was transferred several times, ultimately to Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany in August 1944. Even in captivity, Szabo managed to serve other prisoners, saved at least one spy's life, and planned an escape that was uncovered at the last minute. In January of 1945, she and two other SOE agents were executed by an SS officer. Szabo was posthumously awarded the George Cross and an MBE from Britain, and the Croix de Guerre and Médaille de la Résistance from France. Szabo's exploits are recorded in several biographies and at least one film, Carve Her Name With Pride.

5. Hannie Schaft: Dutch Resistance Fighter

Hannie Schaft was a Dutch resistance fighter. Born Jannetje Johanna Schaft in 1920, she had to drop out of her university studies because she refused to sign an oath of loyalty to the Nazis. She joined a resistance organization called the Raad van Verzet, which leaned toward a communist philosophy. Schaft spied on German soldiers, aided refugees, and committed sabotage. She became known as "the girl with the red hair," although she later colored it after her identity was disclosed. In March of 1945, Schaft was arrested at a German checkpoint. They didn't know they had arrested the infamous girl with the red hair until later when her roots began to grow out. That identification led to her execution on April 17. The story goes that the first soldier who shot merely wounded her in the head, and Schaft cried that she could shoot better than that. Then a shot from a second soldier silenced her forever. After the war, Schaft was reburied with honors in a funeral attended by Queen Wilhelmina and the royal family of the Netherlands.

6. Felice Schragenheim: Underground Operative

Felice Schragenheim spent years trying to leave Germany as the Nazis took power, but every effort to emigrate was blocked for one reason or another. Schragenheim then worked for a Nazi newspaper where she collected intelligence for the underground. She also went on operations to smuggle Jews out of Germany, but details of her underground activities are few and far between. What we know of Schragenheim is the evidence that Lilly Wust kept secret for decades after the war. Wust was the wife of a German officer and a mother of four; both she and her husband were members of the Nazi party. Wust and Schragenheim fell in love in 1942, but Wust did not learn that Schragenheim was Jewish until after their affair commenced. Schragenheim was hiding in plain sight -only her Jewish status was a secret. Schragenheim lived with the Wust family for a time, but on August 21, 1943, was arrested and sent to a concentration camp.

Schragenheim and Wust still managed to send letters to each other. Wust went to Theresienstadt concentration camp in September of 1944 and asked to see Schragenheim. She was refused, and the visit may have accelerated the process that led to Schragenheim's death. She reportedly died on New Year's Eve 1944, possibly from tuberculosis. Wust, heartbroken, left her husband and worked to protect Jews for the remainder of the war. She kept all of Schragenheim's correspondence, in secret until 1995, when they became the subject of a book and then a film, Aimee & Jaguar, in 1999. The love story is told from the view of the survivor, of course. Wust was not privy to Schragenheim's Jewish resistance activities, so most of those details died with her.

7. Queen Wilhelmina: Dutch Inspiration

When the Nazis invaded the Netherlands, Queen Wilhelmina was evacuated to Britain against her wishes when the planned government refuge of Zeeland was overrun by Germans. From Britain, she presided over the government in exile and broadcast information and encouragement to the Dutch resistance over Radio Oranje. Winston Churchill called the queen "the only real man among the governments-in-exile in London."

8. Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya: Soviet Martyr

Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya was barely 18 years old when she was executed for her guerilla activities in World War II. She was posthumously awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, the first woman to be named so in World War II. In October of 1941, she had volunteered for a class of guerrilla fighters known as the Red Army Western Front sabotage and reconnaissance force. Her unit was sent behind enemy lines, near Moscow at the time, to set land mines and to cut off German supply lines. Ordered to burn the village of Petrischevo, Kosmodemyanskaya set fire to a stable and a couple other buildings and was caught by locals. Some accounts say she was betrayed by one of her compatriots, Vasily Klubkov, after he was captured and interrogated. German forces tortured Kosmodemyanskaya by stripping and whipping her and marched her around naked in the cold. Still, she gave no information on her unit. The next day, she was hanged in a public ceremony, a sign on her chest reading "arsonist." Her body was left hanging, displayed for a month before burial. A Pravda article about Kosmodemyanskaya published in 1942 says she died still pledging her loyalty to the Soviet Union. Be warned that if you search for photographs of Kosmodemyanskaya, there are graphic pictures of her dead body.

See also: 11 Women Warriors of World War II

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iStock / Collage by Jen Pinkowski
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The Elements
9 Diamond-Like Facts About Carbon
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iStock / Collage by Jen Pinkowski

How well do you know the periodic table? Our series The Elements explores the fundamental building blocks of the observable universe—and their relevance to your life—one by one.
 
 
It can be glittering and hard. It can be soft and flaky. It can look like a soccer ball. Carbon is the backbone of every living thing—and yet it just might cause the end of life on Earth as we know it. How can a lump of coal and a shining diamond be composed of the same material? Here are eight things you probably didn't know about carbon.

1. IT'S THE "DUCT TAPE OF LIFE."

It's in every living thing, and in quite a few dead ones. "Water may be the solvent of the universe," writes Natalie Angier in her classic introduction to science, The Canon, "but carbon is the duct tape of life." Not only is carbon duct tape, it's one hell of a duct tape. It binds atoms to one another, forming humans, animals, plants and rocks. If we play around with it, we can coax it into plastics, paints, and all kinds of chemicals.

2. IT'S ONE OF THE MOST ABUNDANT ELEMENTS IN THE UNIVERSE.

It sits right at the top of the periodic table, wedged in between boron and nitrogen. Atomic number 6, chemical sign C. Six protons, six neutrons, six electrons. It is the fourth most abundant element in the universe after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen, and 15th in the Earth's crust. While its older cousins hydrogen and helium are believed to have been formed during the tumult of the Big Bang, carbon is thought to stem from a buildup of alpha particles in supernova explosions, a process called supernova nucleosynthesis.

3. IT'S NAMED AFTER COAL.

While humans have known carbon as coal and—after burning—soot for thousands of years, it was Antoine Lavoisier who, in 1772, showed that it was in fact a unique chemical entity. Lavoisier used an instrument that focused the Sun's rays using lenses which had a diameter of about four feet. He used the apparatus, called a solar furnace, to burn a diamond in a glass jar. By analyzing the residue found in the jar, he was able to show that diamond was comprised solely of carbon. Lavoisier first listed it as an element in his textbook Traité Élémentaire de Chimie, published in 1789. The name carbon derives from the French charbon, or coal.

4. IT LOVES TO BOND.

It can form four bonds, which it does with many other elements, creating hundreds of thousands of compounds, some of which we use daily. (Plastics! Drugs! Gasoline!) More importantly, those bonds are both strong and flexible.

5. NEARLY 20 PERCENT OF YOUR BODY IS CARBON.

May Nyman, a professor of inorganic chemistry at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon tells Mental Floss that carbon has an almost unbelievable range. "It makes up all life forms, and in the number of substances it makes, the fats, the sugars, there is a huge diversity," she says. It forms chains and rings, in a process chemists call catenation. Every living thing is built on a backbone of carbon (with nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, and other elements). So animals, plants, every living cell, and of course humans are a product of catenation. Our bodies are 18.5 percent carbon, by weight.

And yet it can be inorganic as well, Nyman says. It teams up with oxygen and other substances to form large parts of the inanimate world, like rocks and minerals.

6. WE DISCOVERED TWO NEW FORMS OF IT ONLY RECENTLY.

Carbon is found in four major forms: graphite, diamonds, fullerenes, and graphene. "Structure controls carbon's properties," says Nyman.  Graphite ("the writing stone") is made up of loosely connected sheets of carbon formed like chicken wire. Penciling something in actually is just scratching layers of graphite onto paper. Diamonds, in contrast, are linked three-dimensionally. These exceptionally strong bonds can only be broken by a huge amount of energy. Because diamonds have many of these bonds, it makes them the hardest substance on Earth.

Fullerenes were discovered in 1985 when a group of scientists blasted graphite with a laser and the resulting carbon gas condensed to previously unknown spherical molecules with 60 and 70 atoms. They were named in honor of Buckminster Fuller, the eccentric inventor who famously created geodesic domes with this soccer ball–like composition. Robert Curl, Harold Kroto, and Richard Smalley won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering this new form of carbon.

The youngest member of the carbon family is graphene, found by chance in 2004 by Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov in an impromptu research jam. The scientists used scotch tape—yes, really—to lift carbon sheets one atom thick from a lump of graphite. The new material is extremely thin and strong. The result: the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.

7. DIAMONDS AREN'T CALLED "ICE" BECAUSE OF THEIR APPEARANCE.

Diamonds are called "ice" because their ability to transport heat makes them cool to the touch—not because of their look. This makes them ideal for use as heat sinks in microchips. (Synthethic diamonds are mostly used.) Again, diamonds' three-dimensional lattice structure comes into play. Heat is turned into lattice vibrations, which are responsible for diamonds' very high thermal conductivity.

8. IT HELPS US DETERMINE THE AGE OF ARTIFACTS—AND PROVE SOME OF THEM FAKE.

American scientist Willard F. Libby won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1960 for developing a method for dating relics by analyzing the amount of a radioactive subspecies of carbon contained in them. Radiocarbon or C14 dating measures the decay of a radioactive form of carbon, C14, that accumulates in living things. It can be used for objects that are as much as 50,000 years old. Carbon dating help determine the age of Ötzi the Iceman, a 5300-year-old corpse found frozen in the Alps. It also established that Lancelot's Round Table in Winchester Cathedral was made hundreds of years after the supposed Arthurian Age.

9. TOO MUCH OF IT IS CHANGING OUR WORLD.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an important part of a gaseous blanket that is wrapped around our planet, making it warm enough to sustain life. But burning fossil fuels—which are built on a carbon backbone—releases more carbon dioxide, which is directly linked to global warming. A number of ways to remove and store carbon dioxide have been proposed, including bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, which involves planting large stands of trees, harvesting and burning them to create electricity, and capturing the CO2 created in the process and storing it underground. Yet another approach that is being discussed is to artificially make oceans more alkaline in order to let them to bind more CO2. Forests are natural carbon sinks, because trees capture CO2 during photosynthesis, but human activity in these forests counteracts and surpasses whatever CO2 capture gains we might get. In short, we don't have a solution yet to the overabundance of C02 we've created in the atmosphere.

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Nicole Garner
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History
How One Widow's Grief Turned a Small Town Into a Roadside Attraction
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Nicole Garner

Like many small towns, the southwest Missouri town of Nevada (pronounced not as the state, but as Nev-AY-duh) loves to tell tales. Incorporated in 1855, the 8000-person city was once a railroad hub and a former home to the outlaw Frank James, the elder brother of the more infamous Jesse James. But the one story Nevada residents love to tell above all others isn't about anyone famous. It's about an atypical above-ground grave in the town's oldest cemetery, the man who's interred there, and how he can't get any rest.

Scan of the Nevada Daily Mail from March 4, 1897.
Nevada Daily Mail; March 4, 1897.
Courtesy of the State Historical Society of Missouri.

On March 4, 1897, the body of a young man was found near Nevada, Missouri, apparently struck by lightning. The local newspaper, the Nevada Daily Mail, printed the story of his death that evening right next to the news that William McKinley had been sworn in as president that day; a bold-faced headline declared "Death Came Without Warning," and noted “His Clothing Torn From His Body." A reporter at the scene described how the body, which was found around 11 a.m., was unrecognizable at first. Eventually the young man's father identified him as Frederick Alonzo "Lon" Dorsa, and the coroner determined that an umbrella was the cause of Lon's electrocution.

Lon left behind a widow whose name was never mentioned in newspapers; to this day, other printed versions of the Dorsas' story omit her identity. But she had a name—Neva Dorsa—and her grief led her to commission a singularly peculiar grave for her husband—one that would open her up to years worth of ridicule and also make their small town a roadside attraction.

A funeral announcement in the Daily Mail noted that undertakers had prepared Lon's body in a "neat casket" before a funeral service set for March 7. A follow-up article the next day read that Lon's funeral was widely attended, with a large procession to the cemetery and burial with military honors. His widow—whose name was determined from a marriage license filed at the Vernon County courthouse showing that Lon married a Neva Gibson on February 12, 1895—had gone from a newlywed to a single mother in just two years.

But, Lon's first interment was temporary. Neva had arranged a grand resting place for her husband, which wasn't ready in the short time between his death and the funeral. Modern newspaper retellings of Lon and Neva's tale say she ordered a large, above-ground enclosure from the Brophy Monument Company in Nevada. A large piece of stone—some accounts say marble while others suggest limestone or granite—was shipped in via railroad car. When it arrived, the stone was too heavy to move, so a local stonecutter spent more than a month chiseling away before the piece was light enough to be pulled away by horses. A wire story described the stone tomb as being "12 feet long, 4 feet wide and 5 feet high. Its weight at completion was 11,000 pounds."

Before Lon’s body was placed inside, Neva made a few key additions—specifically a hidden pane of glass that let her view her husband:

"A piece of stone, covered to represent a bible [sic], is the covering of the aperture. It can be lifted easily by the widow's hand and when Mrs. Dorsa's grief becomes unusually poignant, she goes to the cemetery and gazes for hours at a time upon the face of her dead husband."

The Daily Mail covered the second tomb's installation with morbid attention to detail on May 6, 1897, precisely two months after Lon was initially buried:

"When the grave was opened this morning the coffin looked as bright and new as when buried but it had water in it which had at one time nearly submerged the body. The remains looked perfectly natural and there were no evidences of decomposition having sat in—no odor whatover [sic]. A little mould [sic] had gathered about the roots of his hair and on the neck, otherwise the body looked as fresh as when buried."

The newspaper called the tomb a "stone sarcophagus" and noted that Neva was there to examine her husband's corpse and watch the reburial of his remains. There was likely no inkling from those present, or the community who read about it in that evening's paper, that Neva had designed the tomb with unexpected and usual features, like the pivoting stone Bible that would reveal Lon's face below when unlocked and moved.

Instead, the newspaper suggested that the "costly mousoleum [sic] provided for the reception of his remains is the tribute of her affection."

Lon Dorsa's grave.
Lon Dorsa's grave at Deepwood Cemetery in Nevada, Missouri.
Nicole Garner

Following Lon's re-interment, Neva managed her grief by visiting her deceased husband regularly. Her home was near his grave—the 1900 U.S. Census listed her as a 25-year-old widow living on south Washington Street in Nevada, the same street as the cemetery—and three years after her husband's death, she was employed as a dressmaker, working year-round to provide for their young children, Beatrice and Fred.

By 1905, a new wave of public scrutiny hit the Dorsa (sometimes spelled Dorsey) family when the details of Neva's specially designed, above-ground grave began circulating. It's not clear who reported the story first, but the Topeka Daily Capital, published across the Kansas border 150 miles from Nevada, published a piece, which eventually spread to The St. Louis Republic. Early that spring, the same story was printed in the Pittsburgh Press, a Chicago church publication called The Advance, and in the summer of 1906, a description of Lon Dorsa's crypt had made it nearly 1000 miles to the front page of the Staunton Spectator and Vindicator in Staunton, Virginia:

"The strangest tomb in America, if not in the world, is that which rest the remains of Lon Dorsa in Deepwood cemetery, Nevada, Mo. It is so constructed that the widow can look upon her deceased husband at will, by the turning of a key in a lock which holds a stone Bible just above the remains."

Articles at the time noted that Lon's remains were in an airtight tomb and that scientists supposedly told Mrs. Dorsa that her husband's body would be well-preserved in those conditions, but decomposition had already taken place: "It [the body] has turned almost black, but the general outline of the features remains unchanged."

According to a 1997 walking tour pamphlet of Deepwood Cemetery, it wasn't long before community members caught on that Neva visited the cemetery all too often: "Fascinated children hung about to watch the lady arrive in her buggy. If she saw them, she'd go after them with a whip, shrieking like a madwoman …" the guide stated. Eventually, "her family had the pivot removed and the Bible cemented down."

Local lore suggests that the publicity and Lon's deterioration drove Neva to insanity. Some say she ended up in an asylum and died soon after—a fairly believable tale, considering Nevada was home to one of the state's hospitals for mental illness. However, a list of Deepwood Cemetery lot owners, found at the Vernon County Historical Society, doesn't have a burial space for Neva.

A more likely explanation—based on a listing on Find a Grave, a website that indexes cemeteries and headstones, and which matches Neva's personal information—suggests she simply remarried and moved to California. The California Death Index, 1945-1997, shows that a Neva (Gibson) Simpson died Dec. 30, 1945 in Los Angeles. The birth date and place match those of Neva (Gibson) Dorsa.

Newspaper clipping featuring a picture of a skull.
Nevada Daily Mail, Nov. 30, 1987. Courtesy of the State Historical Society of Missouri.
State Historical Society of Missouri

Wherever Neva ended up, Lon's body didn't exactly rest in peace. In July 1986, vandals broke into the town's most famous tomb and stole his head. It was recovered the following year in a Nevada home, but law enforcement and cemetery caretakers noted that the stone Bible, which had been cemented down for some time, was periodically ripped off the tomb.

Talbot Wight, the Deepwood Cemetery Board’s president at the time, told the Daily Mail in 1987 that Lon's hair, skin, and clothing were well preserved until vandals broke the encasing glass. "Evidently, he was still in pretty good shape until July," Wight said.

But when Lon's skull was photographed for the newspaper's front page, it featured no hair or skin, both of which likely decomposed quickly after being stolen if not before. The skull was buried in an undisclosed location away from the body so as to not tempt new grave robbers, and the tomb was re-sealed with marble in an attempt to prevent further damage.

Still, the story of Neva Dorsa and her husband’s remains hasn't died away. It circulates through southwestern Missouri, drawing visitors to Deepwood Cemetery to gaze at the stone plot—just not in the same way Neva had intended.

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