NEW ORLEANS — Frances Skina Hoffmann, a WWII veteran and one of the oldest female Marines, died earlier this week from COVID-19 at age 96.
Health officials have been struggling to contain the spread of COVID-19 in Lambeth House, the senior living community in Uptown New Orleans where Hoffmann lived. As of Friday, 42 residents have tested positive for the virus and 11 residents have lost the fight against it. Hoffmann died on March 24 but left behind a trailblazing legacy.
“She was very independent,” Edna Greenbaum said. Greenbaum lived next to Hoffmann in Uptown for decades before she started living at Lambeth House.
Greenbaum said her neighbor was sharp, even when Hoffmann was living in the Skilled Nursing area of Lambeth House.
“If she could do it herself, she wasn’t fooling with any resident assistant,” she said.
Hoffmann’s grit is what cemented herself in military history. In 1943, the Corps began accepting women for the first time, and she was eager to leave her home in Milwaukee and join the ranks.
She started out helping mechanics at the Aircraft Salvage Yard in North Carolina, stripping parts to be used for active planes during WWII.
Her career didn’t stop there. She was also chosen to be an assistant airplane mechanic for the Korean War despite it being an accident.
“With the name of Frances, I could have been a man,” Hoffmann wrote in a speech she would often give to visitors at the National WWII Museum. “I did not qualify for the Howitzer Battalion. I was only 21 years old but a friendly officer did some finagling and I got to go.”
After her tours, she went on to be a Life Member of the Women Marines Association, a charter member of the Molly Marine Chapter LA-1 and a regular volunteer at the WWII museum.
“Her family was the Marines,” Greenbaum said.
Her story inspired other Marines like April Austin.
Austin said Hoffmann and other women that served during WWII made big strides for women in the military.
“Those are the women that did something that none of us had the opportunity to do because they did it so well,” she said. “They really were trailblazers for women in the Marine Corps today.”
Outside of the military, the Wisconsin native worked for Hibernia Bank after more than 30 years of service. Her family said she was the first female officer and vice president in the small loan department.
Her niece, Kitty Hoffmann, knew how important the achievements were.
“Not only was she the first woman but she was a northern woman which made it even more impressive. Pretty spectacular woman in so many ways. A woman ahead of the times,” she said.
Her loved ones said she lived an inspiring life.
“(Hoffmann’s generation) understood what it meant to be of service to their country and to other people,” Greenbaum said. “Those people were truly the greatest generation. They enjoyed life. They just understood what it was to give.”
Despite the honorable life Hoffmann lived, friends and family will have to wait to properly lay her to rest. The COVID-19 pandemic has postponed her memorial service.
“I think it’s so sad that we can’t honor her. Whoever goes to the gravesite will be just a few people,” Greenbaum said.
Austin felt like the close Marine community suffered a great setback with Hoffmann’s death.
“It’s kind of like a loss of history,” she said.
Hoffmann’s loved ones said her memorial service will be in the near future as the COVID-19 pandemic subsides. It will be held at Holy Name of Jesus Church, where she was a long-time parishioner.