Jill Pitts was born in Evanston, Illinois, but she was raised in Mt. Hope and Bloomington, Illinois from the age of two. Her father was a farm implement dealer. She attended school in Mt. Hope and Bloomington, then Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri and the University of Illinois. During the war Jill volunteered as a Red Cross hostess and was assigned to be a “Doughnut Dolly.”
Jill was interviewed in Champaign, Illinois as part of a remembrance project “Central Illinois World War II Stories.” Her complete interview can be heard at this link. Another interview was made with Jill Pitts Knappenberger by the National Museum of the Pacific War. Once again, I have created a link for readers to see the transcript of her interview. All of these interviews were found through the Knappenberger Family History website at http://www.knappenberger.net/introduction.html
A third interview of Jill Pitts appeared in the University of Illinois Alumni magazine and is reproduced here in part:
My two brothers were in the military; all the young people were 100 percent behind the American forces to get rid of Hitler and the Japanese who bombed Pearl Harbor. I didn’t want to be a WAAC or a WAVE because I wanted to go overseas, so I joined the Red Cross. I wanted to be a Clubmobile operator.
We were to ship out before Christmas in 1943, but the Germans heard about our convoy leaving New York City, so we got delayed.
Our convoy zigzagged across the Atlantic; it was the largest convoy that had ever left the States. You could look out on deck, and there were ships as far as you could see—battleships, aircraft carriers and a lot of luxury ships like ours that had been converted to troop carriers. It took 10 days for us to get to Scotland. I got my permanent assignment at Glatton Airfield, the largest B-17 bomber base in England.
Our unit would travel in these Green Line buses, which were equipped with doughnut machines and coffee makers. We knew the military was preparing for the D-Day invasion, and we volunteered for that mission. We couldn’t take the Green Line buses to the continent because they only had six inches of ground clearance. Consequently, we traveled to London to take a course on how to drive two-and-a-half-ton, GMC army trucks. We learned how to double clutch, do maintenance, change 55-pound tires. Of the 1,000 people who took the course, only two got a superior rating, and I was one.
In May 1944, the Germans started sending over the V1 and V2 rockets – the “buzz bombs.” So long as you could hear them, you were alright. But when their engines shut off, they dropped immediately – and they were very deadly. I managed to lose 10 pounds in that time because of nervous tension.
Our unit landed on Utah Beach during the last week of July. We were attached to the Eighth Corps, Third Army, and moved with them through Normandy and Brittany. I didn’t feel I was really in danger until Dec. 16 – then we knew we had a problem. That was the first day of the Battle of the Bulge. One of my brothers was killed that day by an 88-mm German shell. One of the hardest things I had to cope with was when they told me I couldn’t write or inform my folks about what had happened.
We were cut off and surrounded. The weather was very cold, 10 to 20 degrees below zero; there were high winds and heavy snow. Everyone had frozen hands, faces or feet. Finally, the 101st Airborne came in and escorted us out.
We were driving along with a Jeep carrying a colonel, a lieutenant colonel and a captain. It was dark and they crashed into the back of an Army truck hauling ammunition, so we transported them in our Clubmobile. Of course, I did all the driving. I could do it and liked it. We zigzagged randomly out of Germany. Eventually, we found our group in Charleville, France.
Jill returned to Illinois after the war, married Theodore G. Knappenberger and lived in Champaign, Illinois, where she was active with the University Extension Services. A family history website does not record Jill Pitts Knappenberger’s death and she would be 101 years old at this time (2019).
I am so grateful for the recordings that exist of Jill telling her story, and I was thrilled to find another Doughnut Dolly (Jayne Stickrod is the other Doughnut Dolly from McLean County). Here is a sad fact: The Doughnut Dollies had the highest mortality rate of any body of women active during the war.