Honoring Iowa's Oldest Living Female Marine: Elleen Wheatley

In the height of World War II – with her twin brother serving in the Pacific and her new husband serving in Europe, 24-year-old Elleen Smith (now Elleen Wheatley) was not content to stay at home and await their return. 

Instead, she joined the United States Marine Corps in 1943, serving until the end of WW II in 1945. 

Now, at 103, Elleen is the oldest living female Marine in Iowa, maybe the entire United States. 

But back in 1943, she simply wanted to do her part for her country. After enlisting on July 1, she headed to basic training at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina before being assigned as a quartermaster at the Marine Corps Auxiliary Air Station Mojave in California.  

Following her and her husband's discharge from service in 1945, they returned to Iowa, moving to Iowa City and later settling in Lamoni. The couple had one son, Monte. 

After her husband was killed in a small plane crash, Elleen and her son struggled, but she maintained that God took care of them. 

She later remarried and enjoyed life on her husband's farm before he died of a heart attack. 

A chance encounter on a flight back to Iowa from Saint Louis brought love back to Elleen. She was seated near a young man, Gerald Wheatley, who was flying home for his mother's funeral. The man took Elleen's contact information and sometime later his father, Lester, reached out to Elleen, inviting her go dancing. Lester and Elleen were married for 32 years before Lester's death in 2015.

Elleen, who continued to live on her and Lester's farm in Marne for many years, enjoys living each day, and gives thanks for all that she has experienced, even the difficult times. 

Elleen, an EveryStep Hospice patient now residing at the Greater Regional Hospice Home in Creston, was recently honored during a special Veteran pinning ceremony attended by family, friends, EveryStep staff and hospital staff at Madison County Memorial Hospital in Winterset.  

EveryStep’s Veteran pinning ceremonies provide honor, dignity and recognition to veterans at the end of their lives. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, family members and friends were often on hand with EveryStep staff and volunteers during the celebratory events. The ceremonies included the Pledge of Allegiance, a prayer of thanks, the awarding of a veteran service flag pin, the singing of “God Bless America,” a reading of "What is a Veteran," and the presentation of a certificate of recognition. During the pandemic, the ceremonies have been adjusted to adhere to safety precautions, enlist the use of virtual participation options, and honor social distancing protocols.