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The Women of El Toro: App Shares Veterans’ History With Great Park Visitors

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Visitors can now tour Orange County Great Park while listening to a free app that shares the stories of female veterans and military wives who lived and worked at the former El Toro Marine Corp Air Station.

The Women of El Toro app created by Cal State Fullerton’s Daniel Sutko, assistant professor of human communication studies, and xtine Burrough, associate professor of communications, launched June 17. 

Park visitors can stop at the iconic orange balloon, Hangar 244, carousel, soccer field and visitor’s center to hear stories of 25 women who stood at those same spots during World War II, and more recently before the base was decommissioned in 1999. 

Among the voices

Vera Nelson: “I loved it there at college until I went into the post office that day in July of ’43 and saw that picture of a beautiful Marine girl in uniform with the big slogan that said, ‘Be a Marine and Free a Marine to Fight!’ And I thought silently to myself, ‘I think I can free two of ‘em.’ So I enlisted in August of 1943.”

Ann Brown Erb: “I loved serving my country, being able to do whatever I could to help the troops that were overseas fighting at the time. No, we weren’t at war then, but after being in Vietnam, you know, to be able to be there and do what we could for the male marines that were over in the fighting zones, it was important to me. It was pride of the Corps, pride of the country, you know.”

Arlene Swinford: “It was the air base for the Marines on the West Coast. Well, I guess I could just be pretty blunt about it. They ought to be grateful for their freedom, because a lot of it came from the Marines at El Toro. They deployed from El Toro and went to World War II, to Korea, to Vietnam two times and other places along the way.”

The women’s stories were captured in 100,000 words and 56 interviews a decade ago by CSUF’s Center for Oral and Public History. Sutko and Burrough began creating the app last year, after receiving a $10,000 Community Stories grant from California Humanities, and a matching grant from the College of Communications.

The pair launched the project hoping to raise awareness of women’s roles in the military and life on the base and to provide the infrastructure for Great Park visitors to build on the history of the Great Park from the past to the future, Sutko said. 

“Since female voices are often missing in narratives of war and the military, their histories provide a unique perspective, expand the historical narrative, and allow for a greater understanding of women’s changing roles in the military and society,” Sutko wrote in the grant application. “Our project preserves the history of El Toro amidst its transition from air station to public park and highlights its importance to Southern California history.”

Many of the women who recorded their oral histories met the developers of The Women of El Toro app at a June invitation-only lunch in the park’s Farm+Food Lab. The public was invited to attend a June 17 exploration of the park with the app creators Sutko and Burrough, and volunteers Xiomara Solis ’16 (B.A. anthropology), Saad Hashmi ’16 (B.A. business administration – marketing and information systems) and Jessica Kavianian, a senior communication studies major.  Get the free iOS app at the App Store; search for The Women of El Toro. 

Media Contact:
Cerise Valenzuela Metzger, 657-278-3708