Birdie Schmidt Larrick: A Columbus Girl’s Unusual Adventures

Printed in the April 15, 1945 issue of the Columbus Citizen are five pictures under the heading “Camera Record of Columbus Girl’s Unusual Adventures.” That Columbus girl was Birdie Schmidt Larrick who during World War II became the only women serving in the Red Cross to have an American bomber named after her.

Birdie Schmidt Larrick, 1944.

Birdie Schmidt Larrick, 1944.

Prior to joining the Red Cross, Birdie graduated from The Ohio State University with a Bachelor’s degree in speech. Under the pseudonym of Irene Allen, she broadcasted feature news over WFJM in Youngstown, Ohio. In early December 1943 Birdie traveled to the Air Base in Wendling, England as Program Director of the American Red Cross (ARC) Aero Club. Stationed in Wendling was the 392nd Bombardment Group (BG), which moved to the base in August 1943 and was assigned to the 8th Air Force.

As Program Director, and later as Director, Birdie’s responsibilities included managing the Aero Club staff, organizing programs and events for the enlisted men and officers, managing the snack bar

Photograph of Birdie Schmidt Larrick and Helen Malsed. December 1944.

Photograph of Birdie Schmidt Larrick and Helen Malsed, December 1944.

and providing snacks, refreshments, and cigarettes to men returning from tours. Reading the reports Birdie kept for the Red Cross, it’s evident that she carried out each task with the intention to make hard situations feel a little more bearable. In her memoirs, “The Way It Was”, she writes how they used white sheets as tablecloths for a homey effect and made ice cream, just as good as the ice cream at home, with powdered milk and eggs.

White tablecloths and ice cream, although seemingly simple, were ways in which the Red Cross volunteers helped the soldiers morale. Birdie and the other Red Cross girls worked to create a community for the men at the base, and they managed this with few supplies and with some innovation. For example,

Portrait of Birdie Schmidt Larrick by Arthur Olsen, artist of the portrait on the Birdie Schmidt ARC B-24 Liberator.

Portrait of Birdie Schmidt Larrick by Arthur Olsen, artist of the portrait on the Birdie Schmidt ARC B-24 Liberator.

they found ways to heat the Aero Club with heavy pasteboard rings that came wrapped around bombs. More than this, they provided the soldiers with a safe place to talk.

Later the engineers, radio men, and gunners of the crews would come to the club and talk.Talk was not so much about flak and fighters but about the empty barracks in which they’d have to sleep. Sometimes I think that bothered them more than being shot at. What could we or I do? Just listen.[1]

In August 1944 a 392nd BG B-24 Liberator was named the “Birdie Schmidt ARC” after Birdie and a base defense tank was named “Helen’s Happy ARC Warriors,” after Helen Malsed who worked alongside Birdie as Program Director.

Birdie and the Crew at the christening of the “Birdie Schmidt ARC” August 1944. Back row left to right: Lt. Wise, Lt. Hoffman, Lt. Randall, Birdie, Lt. Gorton, Cpl. McNutt, S/Sgt. Goo. Front row left to right: T/Sgt. Boney, S/Sgt. Sanders, S/Sgt. Kamacho, S/Sgt. Dopson.

Birdie and the Crew at the christening of the “Birdie Schmidt ARC” August 1944. Back row left to right: Lt. Wise, Lt. Hoffman, Lt. Randall, Birdie, Lt. Gorton, Cpl. McNutt, S/Sgt. Goo. Front row left to right: T/Sgt. Boney, S/Sgt. Sanders, S/Sgt. Kamacho, S/Sgt. Dopson.

A portrait of Birdie’s face was painted on one side of the bomber and a Red Cross on the other.The bomber became as important as Birdie to the 392nd BG. Birdie writes of how they told her of every bullet hole the plane sustained. The day after it was christened, the Birdie Schmidt ARC flew a mission. Birdie writes in a letter to her parents that “it came back all shot up with a wounded left gunner” and when the crew went on leave after the mission they all “wore their flight jackets with my name plastered all over the back.”

Christening of the “Birdie Schmidt ARC”. Left to right: Birdie, Honorable Frances (mother of Princess Diana) and Mary Roche, their father Lord Fermoy, and Lt. Col. Lorin L. Johnson, the 392nd CO.

Christening of the “Birdie Schmidt ARC”. Left to right: Birdie, Honorable Frances (mother of Princess Diana) and Mary Roche, their father Lord Fermoy, and Lt. Col. Lorin L. Johnson, the 392nd CO.

Unfortunately, the ship went down in February 1945. Birdie herself went on to work for the ARC Cinemobile Unit in 1945 and performed for the 7th Army Special Service Shows in a production of “Charlie’s Aunt” at the Stadt Theater in Heidelberg, Germany. She returned home in November 1945, where she continued acting and later got a Master’s degree in education from the University of Central Florida and became a teacher.

Birdie Schmidt and Helen Malsed along with other actors at the Stadt Theater in Heidelberg, Germany. September, 1945.

Birdie Schmidt and Helen Malsed along with other actors at the Stadt Theater in Heidelberg, Germany. September, 1945.

 

 

Photographs displayed here are only a sample of what can be found in the Birdie Schmidt Larrick Collection. You can find more on Birdie’s unusual adventures on the Ohio Historical Society Online Collections Catalog and at the Ohio History Center.

 

 

Adria Seccareccia, Processing Assistant

Sources:

Birdie Schmidt Larrick Collection, MSS 1528. Ohio Historical Society, Columbus, Ohio.

Larrick, Birdie Schmidt. “The Way It Was.” Columbus, Ohio, circa 1990s. Birdie Schmidt Collection, MSS 1528. Box 1, Folder 8. Ohio Historical Society, Columbus, Ohio.

Obituary of Birdie Larrick, The Columbus Dispatch, April 2009. Accessed March 21, 2014 http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/dispatch/obituary.aspx?n=birdie-larrick&pid=126721376

392nd BG Memorial Association. WWW.B24.NET. Accessed March 21, 2014. http://www.b24.net/index.html

 

[1] Larrick, Birdie Schmidt. “The Way It Was.” Columbus, Ohio, circa 1990s. Birdie Schmidt Collection, MSS 1528. Box 1, Folder 8. Ohio Historical Society, Columbus, Ohio. Also found online at http://www.b24.net/stories/birdie.html

[2] Letter, Birdie Schmidt Larrick to Parents, August 13, 1944. Birdie Schmidt Larrick Collection, MSS 1528. Box 1, Folder 3. Ohio Historical Society, Columbus, Ohio.

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