Quincy News

Veteran recalls service as one of first female members of Illinois National Guard

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jul. 3, 2020 12:01 am

LaBELLE, Mo. — The good-natured tone of her voice indicates Juna Homrighausen has no regrets.

Absolutely none.

Homrighausen, a Quincy native who in recent years has lived in LaBelle Manor Care Nursing Home, was among the first women to be part of the Illinois Army National Guard in the late 1970s.

Homrighausen also was among the first women to go through basic training. After enlisting — much to the surprise of her parents, she said — Homrighausen was shipped off to the guard's equivalent of boot camp at Fort Jackson in Columbia, S.C., in August 1977. That was the first step toward what wound up as a 22-year career for her in the guard.

"We were the third group of women to go through basic training," said Homrighausen, who will soon turn 67. "The first two groups of women to go to basic training got a lot of publicity. There were lots of photos taken, and they were bussed from one point to the next. By the time (we) got there, the novelty had worn off."

Homrighausen, whose mother, Mary Urtory, 87, still lives in Quincy, remembers those early days of training were not easy.

"We marched everywhere," she said. "We marched before we had boots to march in. They started us off wearing nurses' shoes, which weren't made for marching, and everyone started reporting foot injuries.

"We were finally issued men's boots, but not before there had been a lot of foot injuries."

Kathy Slayton, also a Quincy native who now lives in northern Virginia near Washington, D.C., marvels at the stories she has heard about Juna, her cousin, over the years.

"Juna was on the cutting edge," Slayton said. "Listening to her talk (about the experience) is fascinating. Those were some tough gals."

Homrighausen said you learned to be tough.

"I was scared all the time," she said. "I just kept my mouth shut -- so I didn't get any unwanted attention. We all thought we were in over our heads. We didn't have a schedule, so we never knew what was going to happen next."

Homrighausen had to learn to deal with the physical demands, especially in the beginning.

"I didn't think I could do even one pushup," she said. "I think it is safe to say that they scared the pushups out of us."

Admittedly, Homrighausen would "hate" to go through basic training again, but the relationships she developed and what she learned are intangibles she would never trade.

"I never expected to be in the guard for as long as I was, and I spent a lot of time in basics being scared to death," she said. "I didn't know what the hell I was doing."

Those she served with will forever hold a place close to her heart.

"You get to know them better than your own relatives," Homrighausen said. "I met a lot of interesting people. Those you (serve with) become an extended family."

She even met the man she would eventually marry, Doug Homrighausen, while in the guard. Their two children, Kurt and Kent, both went on to careers in the armed services. Homrighausen's late brother, Harold Urton, also served in the Guard after a career in the Army.

At the time Homrighausen decided to join the guard, she was working at the former Davis Cleaver Super Produce Station at 127 Maine. She was cutting up poultry for Banquet-brand pies.

"I needed to do something different," she said. "I wanted to make a difference."

She did not join the Army because she was worried about the time commitment if she did not like it.

"I decided to join the guard because it was only one weekend a month, and I thought that would give me a chance to see if I liked it," she said.

Once in the guard, Homrighausen found herself drawn to truck driving.

"It sounded interesting," she said.

And it proved to be just that, much like her entire experience in the guard.

"At some point, my sergeant realized that I could drive a big truck and shift gears without grinding them," Homrighausen said. "He asked how I knew how to do that. I explained that my brother drove a Vega that had notoriously bad brakes. Whenever I drove his car, I had to rely on downshifting to stop the car."

Homrighausen found herself becoming more and more involved with fuel trucks, largely because she "wanted to do something important." She also learned to love the military life.

"For the first time in my life, I really had to pay attention," she said. "People's lives depended on me knowing how to keep everyone safe. I liked to joke around and say, ‘I'd look pretty cute driving a big truck,' but really, I was very proud of being a part of a military family."

That heightened value of responsibility also affected Homrighausen.

"I counted on people, and they counted on me," she said. " Anytime you work with fuel trucks you are in danger. You have to insist that everyone follows the safety guidelines. There are no shortcuts."

Homrighausen thought there was a common denominator among those who wanted to be involved with the guard. She said each and every one hoped to make a difference in some fashion.

"We were all looking for our talent, trying to figure out exactly what we had to offer," she said. "With some people, it was obvious, but others took longer to figure things out. It was sweet when you could see that someone finally found his ‘brilliant spot.'

"There was this guy named Bizwell. He was one of those guys who took awhile to find his ‘brilliant spot,' but when he found it, he really shined.

"Bizwell was the expert at laundry and baths. That may sound fairly easy to a civilian, but it was an important and complicated job. He was really good at it. He could set up showers and a laundry area in minutes. He knew exactly how things fit together, and he took pride in doing it fast.

"That's what I'm talking about," she said. "It felt good to be surrounded by people who had discovered their talent."

Homrighausen also came to realize the value of friendships early in her guard career.

"I made friends," she said "(Many of us) bonded over being scared. We started to help each other, and I realized that there were some things I could do better than others. I was good with people. I had a way of explaining things and breaking it down when people didn't understand the instructions."

Homrighausen left the guard just before the turn of the century, having more than two decades making lifelong friends, traveling to places she would have never been to otherwise, and discovering a newer, deeper sense of pride from helping others. That assistance may have been provided through protection or recovering from a natural disaster.

She learned to relish the challenges that ultimately affected her life far greater than she could have originally imagined. Those challenges also provided the framework for the person she became.

"I am proud of my time in the service," she said. "I left a better person."