Mrs. Louis Payne, Honorary Army General
During times of war, civilians come to the aid of active Military forces. While conducting research on another subject, CECOM historians found a rather interesting news article about Mrs. Louis Payne. For her work with Fort Monmouth Soldiers during World War II, Mrs. Payne was awarded the title “General” by the Fort Commander General Van Duesen. Very little information is available Mrs. Payne other than that she was a former movie star using the name “Laura Lee”, and according to the New York Times (NYT) Article we found, she wed Mr. Louis Payne, a stock broker in New York in 1933.
The NYT, dated 15 December 1941 began, “There is a woman “general” in the United States Army.” She was stationed at Fort Monmouth N.J. headquarters for the Signal Corps wore a brigadier general’s stars and was accorded the salutes due an officer of that rank by the 1,200 men under her command. Mrs. Payne, the mother of three, was as the Times describes, a former actress that six months earlier had been called upon by the base Commander to help with morale work. At the time Mrs. Payne was helping stage private theatricals in an exclusive shore resort club and that she agreed to help General Van Duesen with ‘a show for two’.
Instead, she remained organizing a regular Monday show that guaranteed audience(s) of 10,000. As well, the shows enlisted the help of stars known by Mrs. Payne.
“The Signal Corps became my baby,” Mrs. Payne said, “I got started on the job of entertaining the boys and found I couldn’t stop. And all of my friends in the theatrical world were so generous that the job really wasn’t a hard one.”
She received the title of “general” in September 1941, as recognition for her work. By December, she had also extended her responsibilities to everything from greeting newcomers to finding andirons for the recreation room.
Mrs. Payne’s explanation of her job was that she provided the fort with recreation facilities that the Army doesn’t supply. According to the Times article, the money for the equipment came from private sources, and that the original supply, it was revealed, came from her husband, a fur broker, and since then has been augmented by many of Mr. Payne’s personal friends. The article goes on to say that according to Mr. Payne, she had never done any volunteer work of any sort. When the call came from Fort Monmouth last June, she said she never expected it would amount to a “generalship” and a full-time job.
A series of columns titled “My Day” by First Lady Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt (January 1943) referencing recreation rooms and a hostess house at Fort Monmouth stated that Mrs. Payne was instrumental in raising money, not only to make these rooms more livable than the government could, but she has also helped the chaplains make their chapels really beautiful. Mrs. Roosevelt went on:
“Mrs. Payne must have spent many hours shopping and furnishing these various rooms, but I am sure every time she goes into them, the evident enjoyment of the men must bring her a great sense of satisfaction. It is quite evident that the officers on the post appreciate all that she has done.”
An open letter written by General Van Duesen commending Mrs. Payne for her work also appeared in the Fort newspaper “The Signal Corps Message” on 6 July 1942.
Note: This entry composed by Floyd, and edited/posted by Chrissie.