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Even at 100, "Sarge' still takes no guff

Etta P. Johnson, the woman they call "Sarge," celebrated her 100th birthday by sitting proudly in her wheelchair and reminiscing about her World War II service as a WAC.

Mrs. Johnson, a member of the Women's Army Corps Veterans' Association, swapped war stories Monday with about 70 former WACs, family and friends gathered at the Orlando Memorial Convalescent Center.

As usual, she commanded attention.

"She's given orders all her life. I'm not sure if that's from the service or before," quipped W. Duane Williams, one of her two grandchildren.

Wearing a lavender dress and a medal-encrusted American Legion cap, Mrs. Johnson said two things made her join in 1943.

One was that the Army "needed help and because everyone else was there. So I went."

The other?

"Men," she mused.

She was born in Memphis, Ind., grew up in Bicknell, Ind., and moved to Orlando in 1930.

She trained at Daytona Beach before being stationed at Victorville Air Base near Victorville, Calif.

Members of the Women's Army Corps _ a service created in July 1943 _ wore many hats, but most served in clerical and medical fields.

Her job?

"I told people what to do," she said grinning and without elaboration.

After being discharged in 1945, she returned to her job with Sears, Roebuck and Co. in Orlando.

She then switched to selling Tupperware products, a job she held for more than 30 years.

Half a century later, Mrs. Johnson still takes pride in her military service, enjoys her nickname and takes no guff from anybody. She tells staffers at the convalescent center what to do, and some where to go.

Joseph Magee Sr., a former Orange County commissioner and center resident, often chats with her about her WAC years and his World War stint in the Pacific. His opinion: She's a pistol.

"She always says I'm wacky," Magee said. "But when I told her I was in the Marines, she said I was really wacky."