When Jim Theres first read about the “Hello Girls” of World War I, he knew the story of America’s first female Soldiers needed to be told on the silver screen.
So the Veterans Affairs employee set out on his own time to produce and direct an award-winning documentary, “The Hello Girls: The Army’s Special Weapon in World War I.”
The film was shown Saturday as part of activities surrounding the grand re-opening of the Army Women’s Museum at Fort Lee, Virginia.
Prior to that, the film won best documentary feature last month at the Chagrin Documentary Film Festival in Chagrin Falls, Ohio.
Broadcast journalist Cokie Roberts also introduced the film Oct. 8 at the Washington Convention Center during the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition.
“I had never heard of the ‘Hello Girls’ and I write women’s history,” Roberts said. “That shouldn’t be.”
In 1918, the U.S. Army Signal Corps sent 223 women to France as telephone operators for the American Expeditionary Forces. They donned Army uniforms and swore an oath of allegiance. They often operated near the front lines, connecting calls between trenches, and they endured artillery barrages. Two of them died and were buried in France.
Yet, when the rest of the women returned to the states, they were told they were not eligible for veteran’s benefits, until an act of Congress changed that in 1977.
Now their story has finally been fully documented.
Theres had already produced one documentary film when he decided in May 2017 the time was right to look for a World War I story because the 100th anniversary of America’s participation in the war was coming up.
“I Googled by accident … I meant to do World War I men, but I accidentally typed World War I women and I looked at the screen.” A webpage popped up about Elizabeth Cobbs’ book published last year: “The Hello Girls — America’s First Women Soldiers.”
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