“We all had the right to wear white at our weddings.” Liz and I have been interviewing San Luis Obispo County residents for more than 40 years. During that time, there have only been a few incidents where a comment has brought everything to a stop. Arlene Villa Zanchuck did exactly that in 1981.
We were preparing stories for a new issue of La Vista: The Journal of Central Coast History, a publication of the County Historical Society. That journal is about to be renewed by the County History Center and Cal Poly.
We were speaking to Arlene about her role as a USO “hostess” at Camp San Luis Obispo. When Arlene mentioned the privilege of wearing white at her wedding my student aide, who was with us, looked up incredulously.
The United Service Organizations (USO) were created in February 1941 in response to a request from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to provide programs, services and live entertainment to U.S. troops and their families. Throughout the Second World War, USOs were the G.I.’s “homes away from home.”
While entertainers like Bob Hope and other Hollywood celebrities caught the attention of the press, the real “foot soldiers” of the USOs were the “hostesses,” or local girls who volunteered at USOs at nearby military bases, often in isolated regions of the country like the Central Coast.
These hostesses volunteered to serve doughnuts, dance, and just talk with the troops. They adhered to strict rules which forbade romantic involvement. But as Arlene recalled, “You were instructed never to turn a soldier down to dance.”
Technically, a girl had to be 18 before she could volunteer as a hostess. In 1944, 21-year-old Arlene and her sister, Lucille Villa (Doser) along with Neva Negranti (Noggle), Joyce Mathison (Carsceden) and Doris Negranti (Filipponi), became Junior Hostesses at the USO.
Several times a week the soldiers from Camp San Luis Obispo would come to the Federal Recreation Building (Ludwig Recreation Center) for dances. Arlene would chuckle as she said the five friends began to call themselves “the Arf girls,” because when a good-looking soldier came along, they would all say “Arf! arf! ”while bursting into nearly hysterical laughter.
All five met their future husbands through the USO. Arlene encountered Bill Zanchuck at a USO dance.
“I noticed him out of a whole group of soldiers. Later in the evening, he cut in and danced with me. I thought , ‘I’ll never see him again.’ But the next night we were both at another dance. We danced every night together!”
Bill was with Gen. Terry Allen’s 104th Infantry Division. Commonly called the “Timberwolves,” these Oregon-trained troops were veterans of some of the worst fighting in the European theater.
The “Timberwolves” had liberated Antwerp and fought “The Battle of the Dikes” in the Netherlands after British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery’s failed crossing of the Rhine at Arnhem. After taking heavy losses in the Battle of the Bulge, they captured Cologne. They liberated Nordhausen Concentration Camp.
They were returned stateside and told that they would be retrained for the invasion of Japan. A high percentage of the “Timberwolves” had earned Purple Hearts, many of them for life-threatening injuries in combat.
They were delighted to be at Camp San Luis Obispo but dreaded being sent into “Operation Olympic,” the invasion of the Japanese home island of Kyushu that was scheduled for September 1945.
The Pentagon anticipated sustaining 250,000 American casualties in Operation Olympic. The atomic bombs and Japan’s surrender changed all that. Arlene and the other “Arf Girls” each married soldiers they met at the USO and they were all wearing white.
- Doris Negranti (Filipponi), Arlene Villa (Zanchuck), Joyce Mathison (Carsceden), Neva Negranti (Noggle) and Lucille Villa (Doser) on April 15, 1945.