Elaine Corum, a homemaker and world traveler who proudly served in the Women’s Army Corps in World War II and protested U.S. military actions from Vietnam to Iraq, died July 30 from a stroke, her family said. She was 94.
Although wartime ended her formal higher education, Mrs. Corum devoted her life to engaging with people and ideas. She wrote stories about daring heroines at an early age and published guest columns in The Sacramento Bee. She delivered Meals on Wheels and started a French conversation group. She attended Renaissance Society seminars, marched with Grandmothers for Peace and shared copious clippings about news events.
“Every time I turned on my computer, there was an email from her with a story about something in The New York Times,” longtime friend Jane Cody said. “She was a true citizen of the world.”
Born in 1920 in Los Angeles, Mary Elaine Eyer moved with her family to Sacramento. She attended Sacramento High School and met Raymond C. Corum as teenagers working at famed equestrian Barbara Worth’s stables. They married in 1940 and attended Sacramento City College together until World War II began.
After her husband was drafted, Mrs. Corum enlisted and trained as a radio operator in the Women’s Army Corps. Because of a shortage of men, she was assigned to the hospital ship Larkspur as one of the first women given full-time duty on a crew at sea in wartime. She later recalled comforting severely wounded U.S. soldiers returning home from Europe.
“She talked about seeing young men with missing limbs and bandaged bodies, just talking to them and trying to keep them company,” her daughter Claudia said. “It really affected her.”
Mrs. Corum and her husband returned to Sacramento, where he became a home builder and developer of the popular Mansion Inn across from the Governor’s Mansion downtown. Besides raising two daughters, she organized volunteers to laboriously create textbooks by hand – using a stylus to punch cardboard paper – for blind children being mainstreamed in public schools.
A lover of France and French culture, she organized a group of Francophiles in the early 1990s who met every week for conversation and later was active in the Alliance Française de Sacramento. In addition to visiting many French-speaking countries where her daughter and son-in-law were in the U.S. diplomatic corps, she traveled with her husband to Central and South America.
“Elaine was always engaged with the world,” friend Lyn Masbou said. “She was a very bright woman and very passionate about politics. She was also very humble. She had a great sense of humor, and she was always able to laugh at herself.”
Mrs. Corum, who rose to the rank of sergeant, was proud of her groundbreaking military service. She attended reunions for WAC “radio girls” and traveled to the 1997 dedication of the national Women’s Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.
Meanwhile, she belonged to Grandmothers for Peace and Sacramento Area Peace Action. She attended a Joan Baez concert and peace rally in San Francisco during the Vietnam War. Decades later, she returned to the Bay Area with other activists to protest U.S. plans to invade Iraq.
“I’m just a veteran against the war, because I know what it’s about,” she told The Bee in 2003. “The whole world is going to be on fire.”
Mrs. Corum’s husband and a daughter, Christina Zukowski, died in 2005. In addition to her daughter Claudia, she is survived by a brother, Lyle C. Eyer; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
A private service is planned. Memorial donations may be made to PBS’ Channel 6 (KVIE) in Sacramento.