American Legion Hall
I met Jo Ann Fielder last November when The Greatest Generation Foundation’s excellent photographer, John Riedy, visited Newhall’s American Legion Hall for a complimentary veterans portrait shoot. Jo Ann and I recently met again at Valencia’s Corner Bakery and we enjoyed a delightful two-and-a-half-hour conversation as we both served in the 9th Infantry Division. Jo Ann is a very proud 20-year Army veteran.
Jo Ann Robinson Fielder was born Jan. 12, 1947, in Monroe, Louisiana, but grew up in nearby Swartz, which is part of Ouachita Parish. She graduated from Monroe’s Richwood High School May 31, 1965, and was selected valedictorian and homecoming queen in her senior year. Jo Ann attended Southern University and A & M College, a historically black university, at Baton Rouge, Louisiana, earning her bachelor’s degree in English in 1969. She received a partial scholarship and she worked in the Athletic Department part-time to cover expenses.
Exciting Adventure and Travel
Following College, Jo Ann returned home and began part-time teaching for one semester in Ouachita Parish’s school system. Meanwhile, Jo Ann became restless, realizing her country lifestyle with low wages and non-existent social opportunities were unsatisfactory. Jo Ann discovered a postcard within her school papers that she had received from a New Orleans’ Army recruiter while at Southern. Cards were sent to all junior and senior university women. It read: “If you want an exciting career with adventure and travel, complete this card and return it.” Jo Ann could not complete that card fast enough! Within a week she received a large information packet from the New Orleans recruiting office. However Jo Ann’s mother, the late Mrs. Vardelia Robinson, was far from enthusiastic and did everything in her power to dissuade her, but to no avail.
Capt. Roberta Donaldson
The New Orleans Army recruiting officer, Capt. Roberta Donaldson, is a person Jo Ann won’t forget. Capt. Donaldson and a senior non-commissioned officer arranged to visit Jo Ann at her home. However, upon their arrival Mrs. Robinson informed her daughter that she did not want those people in her home. Jo Ann asked them to depart, but said she would visit the local Monroe recruiting office to continue their discussion. Her mother refused her use of their family vehicle, so upon hearing this Capt. Donaldson dispatched a car and driver to bring Jo Ann to the station. The process then ensued and in October 1969, Jo Ann completed a physical examination and was interviewed by a board of officers for her application to become a commissioned officer, 2nd lieutenant.
Jo Ann was commissioned Jan. 6, 1970. Capt. Donaldson arranged for her ceremony to be televised at Monroe’s KTVE TV Station and it was broadcast twice that day. The following day Jo Ann’s mother was at work in the newly integrated Swartz Elementary School cafeteria, when the principal, a white male, searched for her. He asked Mrs. Robinson if that was her daughter who was commissioned an Army officer on television last night. The newscast said she was the daughter of the late James Robinson Sr. and Mrs. Vardelia Robinson, of Swartz, Louisiana. Jo Ann said, “My mother was so astounded and impressed that from that point on you would have believed it was her idea that I joined the Army.” Jo Ann’s military career began as she departed for a six-month women’s officers basic course at Fort McClellan, Alabama, Feb. 2, 1970.
9th Infantry Division
Jo Ann volunteered for “active duty indefinite” status within a year after her commissioning since the commitment for service was only two years. She remained at Fort McClellan after graduation in June 1970 and was assigned to be a platoon leader in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) Training Battalion. Her next assignment was Fort Lewis, Washington, where she worked as a personnel officer in the transfer point where soldiers were deployed to Vietnam and Korea. She was later transferred to the 9th Infantry Division also to work as a personnel officer. Her last position at Fort Lewis was as budget officer with the Unit of Choice Office, where newly recruited troops were matched with their job skills within the 9th Division. Jo Ann’s duty at Fort Lewis ended in June 1974 when she was assigned to the Finance Corps and assigned to Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, for training prior to her next assignment in Heidelberg, Germany, as a cash control and disbursing officer.
Great Dane Connection
Jo Ann met her future husband, Capt. Robert Fielder Jr., a pilot who flew fixed and rotary wing aircraft, at Fort Benjamin Harrison through another officer who asked her for her telephone number under the guise of inviting her to a “Bid Whist” card party. He gave Jo Ann’s phone number to Robert as he didn’t want his wife to find it. Curiously, Jo Ann was never invited to a “Bid Whist” party. Jo Ann would meet Robert later after she and two female friends casually dropped by his apartment during an outing, surprising a gracious Robert. Jo Ann learned that Robert was divorced with custody of his two young children, ages 5 and 3. Another officer friend of Robert’s was visiting from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and had his Great Dane with him. This was a huge dog and made Jo Ann quite uncomfortable so she sat in a bean bag chair at the apartment’s entrance. Robert’s little girl, Rebecca, was walking under the dog and both men assured Jo Ann the dog was harmless. However, as the dog sauntered toward Jo Ann, Robert’s son Michael came along so she quickly grabbed Michael, cradling him the rest of their visit, hoping that giant dog would stay away. Though Jo Ann’s female friend had eyes for Robert, he made contact with her. Jo Ann and Robert soon went bowling and continued dating during their entire training period and were married the following year on May 17, 1975, at Trinity United Methodist Church in Berkeley, California. Jo Ann reared Rebecca and Michael as her own children and today has 18 grandchildren and five great grandchildren from these two wonderful kids.
Major Jo Ann R. Fielder served 20 years in the U.S. Army, retiring March 1, 1990, and received her honorable discharge. She held numerous assignments throughout the United States, visiting over 59 military entrance processing stations (MEPS) during assignment as an auditor for the Military Entrance Processing Command, a defense agency, at Great Lakes Naval Station, Illinois. Other assignments included financial and personnel positions at San Francisco’s Presidio, Heidelberg, Germany, Camp Humphreys, Korea, Panama, Honduras, and Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) at a South Carolina university. Her last assignment was as an Instructor at the U.S. Army Institute of Administration at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana. Jo Ann said, “Capt. Donaldson promised an exciting career of adventure and travel, and boy did she deliver!” Jo Ann and Robert unfortunately separated and divorced as her retirement loomed. Jo Ann’s career in higher education began after her retirement as she joined Employment Services as supervisor at Foothill-De Anza Community College District, Los Altos Hills, California, Jan. 18, 1990, just two months before retirement. Other higher education positions included director of staff support programs, Coast Community College District, Costa Mesa, California, January 1993 to July 1997, dean, Santa Monica Community College District, Santa Monica, August 1997 to June 2003, and academic administrator/director, California State University, Northridge, August 2003 to June 2010. Jo Ann also served as a personnel commissioner, appointed by the school board, for the William S. Hart Union High School District from 2005 to 2014. Additionally, Jo Ann was a foster parent for teenage girls for 10 years.
Jo Ann retired completely in June 2010 and loves to travel. She enjoys bowling and “Bid Whist” with friends and is a huge fan of television evangelist Joel Osteen. Traveling by air is no longer her preference unless she’s venturing outside the continental United States, so she’s an avid Amtrak passenger. Jo Ann, thank you for your honorable service to America and for participating in our Signal newspaper’s veterans page.