Title: Navy Yeoman (F), 3rd Class, World War I
Birthdate: January 30, 1894
Death Date: October 26, 1973
Plot Location: Naval 4, Row 14, Grave 14

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Jane B. Geris was her given name according to the 1900 and 1910 census reports, but she used Veronica Jane as an adult. Her mother, Rose Campbell of Illinois, married Joseph Geris of Ohio in 1887 when he was a farmer in Nebraska. Veronica was the fourth of six children born there before the family moved to another farm in Iowa in 1900. Rose died there three weeks after giving birth to their seventh child.

Joseph moved one last time, to join his parents on their farm in Bristow, Virginia, just west of Manassas. He married again, a Virginia native named Amanda. She kept busy by birthing and raising ten more children for a total of 17.

A Woman in the Service

In 1916 the Navy reported it didn’t have enough clerical workers to support the department if the United States were to become involved in the Great War. The Secretary of the Navy discovered there was no legal reason why women couldn’t join, so the recruitment drive began in March, 1917. Veronica was one of more than 11,000 who volunteered to perform administrative work to free male sailors for combat duties. 

Most of the women held the rank of Yeoman, but to distinguish between males and females the women’s rank was Yeoman (F). Living close to Washington, Veronica may have commuted to work, so she enlisted on September 11, 1918. There’s no record of her specific duties, but she most certainly was proud to wear the uniform of the United States Naval Reserve Force until her discharge on September 10, 1920.

While there she met an Army corporal who served his entire hitch in Washington, D.C. in the Motor Transport Corps. Leo Curran was from Philadelphia, a year younger than Veronica, and he also lost a parent when he was a child. He only served 13 months, from December of 1917 to January of 1919. But he was smitten, and wasn’t about to leave town without her so they married on January 30th, her 25th birthday.

The couple moved later that year to his hometown after she apparently was able to continue serving, probably at the Navy Yard, until she was discharged. Leo found work as an auto mechanic and their first child, Mary, was born on November 27, 1919. Then came a second, Joseph, on November 5, 1920, and a third, Edward, on August 26, 1922.

A Woman in Grief

Veronica grew up with lots of children in the home, but having three of her own demanded all of her time and attention, especially since they were so close in age and so young. What happened to the family in 1923, however, was beyond shocking. First, Joseph died on September 23 from viral gastroenteritis, an intestinal infection. Four days later, Edward died of the same illness. It is sometimes caused by contaminated food or water. Infants in particular are vulnerable if they put fingers or other objects contaminated with the virus into their mouths.  

The unimaginable trauma from losing two little ones was followed by Mary’s death on October 16. In her case it was pneumonia caused by inanition, or weakness from lack of nourishment (starvation). All of this happened while Veronica was pregnant for the fourth time. 

How did this woman endure the sickness, death, and burial of all three of her children, one at a time within a period of three weeks? One possible answer was the pregnancy itself that gave her hope, a sign of a new beginning. 

The exact birthdate of their baby Rosemary isn’t known, but it was most likely in late 1923 or early 1924. She was their last child and when the 1930 census was taken on April 5, she was already six years old. By this time Leo had become the proprietor of his own auto repair shop, and a few years later he became a car salesman after they moved to the suburb of Upper Darby in Delaware County.

A Woman on Her Own

Sometime in the 1940s after Rosemary married, Veronica made a change in her own address.  The 1950 census says she was separated and living with her sister in Washington, D.C. Catherine Geris Ramsey was four years older, age 60, widowed, and the owner/manager of a valet shop (perhaps a formal-wear store). Veronica was a clerk in the U.S. Treasury Department. The paper trail stops until at some point she entered the Naval Home in Philadelphia.

Whether the Currans ever reconciled is unknown. Leo’s obituary in 1968 describes him as the husband of Veronica Geris. He and the three little children were buried in Cathedral Cemetery. 

After her death in 1973, just short of her 90th birthday, Veronica was given a military headstone for her grave here in the Naval Plot.

Japanese maple tree in front of a monument at Mount Moriah Cemetery

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