by Chris William
Catherine “Kitty” Chappel was born on December 7, 1916, in the eastern port city of New London, Connecticut. Kitty’s family was comprised of “old New England stock,” being descended from the Pilgrim passengers on the Mayflower voyage of 1620. Her lifetime of extended travels began early as a teenager when she completed studies at Williams Memorial Institute followed by the prestigious school known as The Ogontz (named after a Sandusky Indian chief) School for Young Ladies, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This elite institution (later to become part of Pennsylvania University) had helped to educate many notable American women, including Helen Keller, who graduated in 1904, and Amelia Earhart, who entered the school in 1916, but quit before graduating to become a stateside nurse at a veteran’s hospital during WW1.
While at the Ogontz School, Kitty was taught a general secondary education and trained in the social graces required of young women of the privileged classes at the time. Despite its small size (having no more than 100 students enrolled at once), the school had gained international recognition in 1888, when the then-current principal, Sylvia Eastman, began uniformed military drills as part of their curriculum for the students. These precision drilling units became so well-known that in the later 1930s, the undisputed leader of the burgeoning Third Reich, Adolf Hitler, was rumored to have written a letter to Ogontz’s head mistress, Abby Sutherland, in which he praised her efforts in conducting the drills and instilling discipline in the young women of the school. The framed note was displayed on a wall of Sutherland’s office until the Nazi regime began its aggressive takeover of Europe, after which time the letter suddenly disappeared.
When Kitty entered Ogontz in 1932, she became active in the uniformed marching group. She continued her involvement until her graduation in 1934.
After finishing her studies at Ogontz, Kitty attended Radcliffe College, a liberal arts institution for young women which is now part of the Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.After she graduated from Radcliffe in 1938, Kitty began an advertising and publishing career in New York City, eventually becoming a writer for Life magazine.
In 1941, Kitty’s parents moved to California, and she joined them on the west coast shortly thereafter. While living in San Francisco, she began her wartime service to the country by becoming a civilian worker at the Chemical Warfare Service (CWS), the US Army department responsible for chemical weaponry (afterwards becoming the Chemical Corps of the US Army).
Seeking to become more involved with the war effort, Kitty left the CWS and joined the American Red Cross (ARC). The ARC had a Congressional Charter requiring them to give voluntary aid to the military sick and wounded in times of war.After applying, she was accepted for overseas duties. In July 1944, she was among the first ARC members to make the harrowing Atlantic crossing and landing in France. There, she began support work on the ground following the American troops as they cut a path towards the heart of Nazi Germany.
While serving behind the lines, Red Cross members brought a “little bit of home” to the battle weary Americans: Passing out comfort items, such as coffee and doughnuts, entertaining the soldiers with small talk and news, and helping to build morale. When the fighting became more fierce and the casualties mounted, they helped the military medical personnel with the wounded as they were able.
After her initial service helping GIs behind the lines, Kitty was assigned to a Red Cross team that organized, supplied, and opened three military service clubs located in France and Belgium. These service clubs became safe havens for soldiers on leave, who, even though they were stationed in foreign lands, could step in and be transported back into “American surroundings.” American girls, music, singing, dancing, and refreshments were the fuel needed to restore their feelings of normalcy where they could forget that the next day, week, or month could be their last. At one of the clubs that Kitty had helped open — the Rendezvous Club in Liege, Belgium, — she met her future husband, Army Ordnance officer, Arthur Hislop, from Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
With the coming of the European war’s end, Arthur and Kitty resumed their romance and returned to the States. They later married, settled down, and raised a family in their central California home. These two members of the “Greatest Generation” shared more than 50 years together until Arthur’s passing in 2000, and Kitty’s in 2003.