Frances L. O'Shea

   Branch: U. S. Army

   Status: Deceased Veteran

   Date of Service: WWII

   Home Town: Bagley

Frances O’Shea

Frances Lillo O’Shea was born October 29, 1919 in Lengby to Carl F. and Ida A. Lillo. She grew up in East Grand Forks and attended the University of Minnesota and business school in St. Cloud before returning to the Grand Forks area in the late 1930s to work. 

Francis enlisted in Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in June 1943. She was sent to Fort Snelling, MN where she joined a group heading to Daytona Beach, Florida for basic training. In August 1943, the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps became a regular Army unit, so the women were then called WACS. Those involved in the auxiliary were given a chose to leave the service or join the regular army.

On September 1, 1943, Frances was sworn into the regular army. She was assigned to the Third Air Force Headquarters in Tampa, FL. She was part of the first group of WACs to be assigned to headquarters, and the men looked upon her with hostility and skepticism. The job of the women in WAC was to free up a man for the front. The women were separated from the men on the base in every way. The WAC had their own cooks and kitchen help, with one lone GI guard who marched back and forth in front of their company office. After 4 months in Tampa, Frances requested an overseas position. She was afraid the war would be over before having a chance to see the world. Her request was granted, but not without protest from the company commander. He did not feel he would be able to face her parents if she would be killed. Frances was able to persuade the commander, and he signed her transfer, and also promoted her to a Corporal.

In February, 1944 Frances boarded the Isle de France along with 1200 other WACs. For the next 9 days they were on ship with little fresh water, so they lived in their one pair of coveralls that were issued prior to boarding the ship. While on board, Frances volunteered to work in the Purser’s office. Once at their destination of Scotland, the ship waited until the Germans ended their nightly raid on Green Oak. Aboard ship Frances could see flashes of light that flared briefly in the night sky just beyond the horizon.

Frances was in Great Britain until late August 1944, when she boarded a small Belgian freighter in Southampton, England. She was transported with 24 other WACs to France. She was to take shorthanded and transcribe information in Paris. They landed on Omaha Beach, where the Allies had stormed the shore. The blood and human remains had been removed, but the wreckage of the battle was still there. There was “a grotesque, nightmarish graveyard of smashed jeeps, burned trucks, tanks buried in sand, guns dangling helplessly. Barbed wire, tangled in iron stakes, littered the beach everywhere.” Frances and the other WACs were taken a few miles down the road until the driver dropped them off near a short road, where tents had been set up from past occupants. They were told not to move from there because the rest of the area had not been swept for mines. They were left there for 24-36 hours, before they flagged down a jeep and sent a message to the commanding officer of the supply depot just 2 miles down the road. He did not even know they were coming, and he was angry. He spent the afternoon on the radio trying to find out what he should do with these women. Finally he was told to send the WACs on to Paris. On the way in to Paris, the driver pointed out St. Lo. What had been the town was a mountain of rubble. The American Army had broken through this area and fanned out across France. Artillery, bombs and tanks from both sides had pummeled the town. St. Lo was completely destroyed.

Not long after seeing this sight, Frances fell asleep, and woke up in Paris. The WACs were put up in the luxurious Majestic Hotel, near the Arc de Triumph. This hotel had housed the occupying Germans, until taken over by the liberating Americans. Fran served in several cities and in many capacities during her time of service. She was discharged in 1947. Her last position involved scheduling the movement of all the Army and Navy cargo and passenger vessels between New York and Germany. She married and had three children.

Fran came to Bagley in 1951 and worked at the Farmers Home Administration until she retired in 1980. She was a member of the American Legion, Bagley VFW, the Legion Auxiliary and Faith Lutheran Church. She died on June 25, 1999 at age 79 and is buried in St. Joseph’s Catholic Cemetery in Bagley.

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