The men who passed through Casper Army Air base gave her photographs to remember them by.
They’re all here in her scrapbook, dressed in uniform, each image signed with a note:
A shipmate in the Battle of Casper
George W. Smith , 2nd Lt., A.C.
To Joye – that saucy strawberry and a swell pal –
With my best regards
Ben H. Black, 1st Lt., A.C.
To a little Squirt,
the biggest pest I’ve ever known.
Joye Marshall Kading isn’t sure why they chose her. Maybe it was because she was 19, always the cute strawberry blonde. Or because she was the secretary to the top-ranking official. The soldiers knew she could help pull them out if they got into trouble.
Every single photograph – dozens of them – she kept.
“I’m a Depression child. ... Anything that you acquired you saved and kept because you might need it for something someday, whether it was a pair of pliers, or a pair of old shoes or a photograph that you found somewhere,” she said recently, sitting in a building that was once the servicemen’s club on base.
Kading has seen this place through its entire lifetime. She was here when there was nothing but open land, when men came in to see if Casper was a viable spot for an air base. She saw it through its heyday, and was here when it was no longer needed.
In March 1942, Kading was working as a public stenographer at the Henning Hotel when she got a phone call. Lt. Col. Carl T. Nordstrom with the 7th Service Command was visiting Casper and wanted to meet with her. He’d heard about her, that she adapted quickly to changing conditions.
Yes, she told him. She could write shorthand 120 words a minute and type 90.
They met, but Kading told Nordstrom she’d have to think about it. She gave him the names of several other girls to consider in the meantime.
Nordstrom called again about a week later. Kading was anxious to hear who he had hired.
You, he had told her. She’d been hired a week ago, and Nordstrom wanted to know why she hadn’t shown up to work.
“I knew (then) I was stuck, and I couldn’t do anything about it,” Kading said.
From April 1942 to April 1945, Kading worked for every top official that came through the base. When Nordstrom left, she became secretary to Lt. Col. James C. Long, the man in charge of construction with the Corps of Engineers.
They liked her so much, they kept passing her on to the next guy. She took phone calls, set up meetings, took notes and typed them up, made sure everything flowed between departments.
By September 1942, the first troops arrived, everything from barracks to the chapel to officers quarters ready.
The soldiers played gags on each other and tried to marry all the women in Casper, Kading remembers. They also took a liking to her.
“They had a lot of fun with me.”
Some joked about wanting to take her out on dates. Others really did want to go with her, and she obliged on occasion. A man once put a ring on her finger, but she would have nothing of marriage during wartime. She mailed the ring back to him.
When plastic became a popular new building material for planes, the men on base took an extra piece and put it on top of Kading’s desk. Each time she returned to her office, there would be new photographs tucked safely under the plastic.
To My Best “Girl Buddy” Joye
J. Frank Pottorff
The Best in the West
“They just had a blast. They thought they were really doing something -- and they were,” Kading said, referencing her scrapbook. “That’s 65 years ago. Now this tells their story.”
During the war, Kading wrote to 30 different soldiers a week. She told them what was going on, and they would send her photographs and stories. Always, she held onto them.
Of all the men on base, there was only one who was short with her.
Back then, some men weren’t receiving the promotions they were supposed to, so Kading asked them to check in with her to make sure they got what they needed.
When a man named Frank arrived in 1943, she told him to let her know when he got his promotion.
It was none of her business, he had told her.
“I never saw him before in my life and he was the base quartermaster,” Kading said. “… No one talked to me like that.”
She didn’t care for him much then. But Frank was very intelligent, a hard worker who handled his men with ease and could get more out of the soldiers than anyone else.
Frank Kading was the man she would marry in 1945. She still wears the engagement stone around her neck. She never takes it off.
Together, the Kadings kept up correspondence with many who came through the base. When those men and women died later in life, their children passed stories, military uniforms and other wartime items to the Kadings.
Everything they saved, including all those photographs, did have a purpose. Beginning in 1977, Kading began holding meetings and tried to figure out how to preserve the air base. It took years.
On Memorial Day 2002, in the former servicemen’s club on base, the Wyoming Veterans’ Memorial Museum opened, telling the stories of the men who came through Casper.
“I did need them,” Kading said of her photographs. “You wouldn’t know about these men or their stories -- and neither would anyone else -- if I didn’t have them.”