MAYBE you know, maybe you don’t, but the remarkable Dorothy Brandt passed away in February. Her full name was Dorothy Mae Hinson Brandt, and she died at age 95 at her home in Alamosa County.
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet sent along condolences and a full Fort Carson platoon dressed in military blues showed up at the memorial to pay their respects.
Of course she would receive full military honors upon her death, and if you know her story, you understand why. But if you don’t know the Dorothy Brandt story, a Yankee Doodle girl who went to war, then please do read along.
The daughter of a sharecropper from North Carolina, she was working at age 16 on an assembly line putting tracer caps on munitions when a military recruiter passed through the plant looking to recruit for the war in Europe.
She had two brothers already serving in the military, and with her own sense of patriotic duty and need to serve the country, she fudged her age and said she was 21 in order to join the Women’s Army Corps in February 1944.
“I don’t even know if she had a birth certificate,” says her grandson, John, who methodically has been tending to affairs since her death.
Eventually she landed in Europe, reporting to Gen. Mark Clark, head of the 15th Army Group in Verona, Italy. In her scrapbook is a photograph of her and President Roosevelt before his death in 1945, evidence of the popularity of women serving during WWII and her own magnetic personality that drew others to her.
After the war, she signed up for another tour of duty in Heidelberg, Germany with the Third U.S. Army. It was there that she met and later married John H. Brandt, a German immigrant who had graduated from the U.S Naval Academy in 1935 and was part of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which preceded the CIA.
“Heidelberg,” she would say later, “set the stage for the rest of my life.”
LIKE hers, his story too is full of adventures and together they made a life in Alamosa and the San Luis Valley. She got the SLV Museum going and stayed active with it through the years. Proceeds from a book she wrote, “America’s Youngest Women Warriors,” go to benefit the museum.
The Brandts married on July 6, 1946, and had two daughters, Sally Lynn and Dixie Lee. Captain Brandt – he retired as a U.S. Navy Captain – stayed in the military until he retired in 1982. As a Navy officer he specialized in counter-intelligence and counter-insurgency during WWII, the Korean War, and Vietnam.
He also worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, where he met leaders like Towaoc Ute Tribe Chairman Jack House, whose portrait Brandt drew and hangs in the family’s home in Alamosa. If you saw his drawings and didn’t know anything else of Captain Brandt, you would think he was a famous southwest artist. He did, in fact, receive a scholarship at one point to the Manhattan School of Music and Art, and his artwork is another example of the many facets of his life with Dorothy.
Captain Brandt’s family immigrated to the United States from Germany in the 1930s. Growing up, he was fascinated by the writings of Karl May, a 19th-century German writer whose fictitious novels romanticized the American Old West.
It was that lifestyle of ranching, riding horses, raising cattle, and interacting with Native Americans as Brandt’s work at the Bureau of Indians Affairs allowed him to do, that motivated the Brandts to buy land in the outskirts of Alamosa in 1968. Even before then, the Brandts were familiar with Alamosa and San Luis Valley. John H. Brandt earned a biology degree from Adams State in 1954, while still serving in the military.
“Being a German kid reading all those Karl May novels, he always wanted to be a cowboy and see the Old West,” says their grandson. “He wanted to be a rancher and have horses when he retired.”
So they did. She was fond of her water lilies and sitting at a pond at the Brandt Ranch east of Alamosa, enjoying the beauty of the Valley. And while she told the stories of her WWII experiences, she and Captain Brandt weren’t consumed by it, their grandson says.
“They both did so many other things that they weren’t caught up in the war,” he says.
He also says she wouldn’t have necessarily wanted “people sitting around and praising her afterward” upon her death.
She lived life as it was happening, and what a life she led.
Watch this short video from women’s history month on Dorothy Brandt.
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