Julia Kabance, who served during World War II as a member of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), died last Tuesday at the age of 111. She was the oldest known woman veteran of the conflict and the oldest living citizen of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation.
“Julia was a proud member of the American Legion Post 410 We Ta Se, for her service in World War II,” Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation Chairman Joseph Rupnick tells Native News Online. “She was an inspiration to our tribe.”
Kabance was born on the Prairie Band Potawatomi Reservation in 1910 as the 11th of 12 children, says the tribe in a statement. Speaking with the Mercury’s Megan Moser in 2019, she recalled her family buying an early hand-cranked car when she was 3 years old.
“Just about the time they got it started, it went ‘bang!’ and backfired,” Kabance said. “I wanted to jump out!”
The supercentenarian studied at Haskell Institute (now known as Haskell Indian Nations University) and the University of Kansas before joining the WAC in March 1943 at age 33. She told the Mercury that she and other women were sent to Kansas’ Fort Leavenworth to take over office jobs so that the men who had previously performed them would be able to fight overseas—a fact that didn’t sit well with the men.
“They said, ‘We were just pulled in. We had no choice. You just walk in because you wanted to be here,’” she recalled. “They rubbed it in all the time. I told them, ‘Well, there is such a thing as patriotism.’ I said, ‘The country’s at war.’ I said, ‘Everybody needs to help.’”
In addition to performing clerical work, Kabance spent time as a driver for the United States Army before receiving an honorable discharge in 1945 as a staff sergeant. She cared for her ailing mother until the older woman’s death four years later. After that, she went to work for the Air Force in Topeka and, later, for other military installations, including in Washington State and on the East Coast. She spent years volunteering with Veterans Affairs and was active with the Catholic Church and her American Legion post. She continued her volunteer work well beyond her 100th birthday, according to her obituary.
“Julia Kabance lived the life of a warrior, patriot and respected tribal veteran,” former Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation chairperson Tracy Stanhoff tells Native News Online. “She was extraordinary in exhibiting a true zest for life. At her birthday party three years ago, held in concert with the Annual Potawatomi Gathering hosted by our tribe, she was a beautiful spirit sharing with us stories from the photos on display and instructing us to archive them at the tribal government center.”
Kabance told the Mercury that she hoped to live to 112 and beyond, setting national and international records for longevity. While she didn’t reach that goal, she was the oldest living female World War II veteran and probably the oldest living person in Kansas. As Tim Hrenchir reports for the Topeka Capital-Journal, this title is uncertain because the state doesn’t keep an official record. The oldest living person in the United States is 115-year-old Thelma Sutcliff of Omaha, Nebraska. The oldest World War II veteran is 112-year-old Lawrence Brooks of New Orleans.
Asked about the secret of her longevity, Kabance told the Mercury that part of it may have been the fact that she never married.
“I could do whatever I wanted,” she said.