Lieutenant Lowderback’s Short Snorter: A Flight Nurse’s Service and Souvenir in WWII

tags: military history, World War 2, Air Force

Elizabeth DeWolfe, PhD, is Professor of History at the University of New England. She is the award-winning author of The Murder of Mary Bean and Other Stories, about the short life and tragic death of the textile worker Berengera Caswell, and of Shaking the Faith: Women, Family, and Mary Marshall Dyer’s Anti-Shaker Campaign.


Short Snorter

Origins of the short snorter club are murky but one oft-repeated tale credits 1920s barnstorming pilots with creating the tradition, which then spread to commercial and military fliers. Initially, membership was offered only to pilots who had flown over an ocean, their acceptance into this elite club confirmed by signatures on a dollar bill. By WWII, a trans-oceanic flight or being a pilot was no longer a requirement, much to the dismay of old timers who grumbled over the relaxation of standards in war-time letters to the editors of Yank or Flying magazines. Signing paper currency became a craze, and record-setting short snorters could reach 100 feet or more in length. Reader’s Digest covered the fad, Eleanor Roosevelt participated, and even Coca-Cola ran an advertisement suggesting that when short snorters meet, drinking a Coke will “bring folks closer together.”

Lowderback’s initiation happened over the Pacific Ocean. She explained to Charlie in a later letter that her first-flight nerves quickly calmed. She found her patients to be “just nice sick kids happy to be coming home” and the flight crew had put her at ease.8 According to the informal rules, at least two short snorter members had to be present to welcome a new initiate. On Lowderback’s flight, several men, each with their own short snorter, signed a US dollar bill inscribed with Lowderback’s name and destination. She paid each a dollar as a fee. Now Lowderback could ask of others – do you have a short snorter? If they had theirs on hand, signatures were exchanged; if they claimed to have one but failed to produce it, that soldier paid one dollar to each short snorter holder in the vicinity. A variation mandated that the soldier buy everyone a drink – a “short snort.” The goal was to collect currency from the places you passed through and gather signatures from the people you encountered along the way.

For the next eight months Lowderback collected signatures. For her initiation, Lowderback had signed a US dollar over-stamped “Hawaii.” In the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor, fearing the Japanese might overrun the island and confiscate US currency, the US government issued bills stamped HAWAII in block letters, currency that would be immediately deemed invalid if an invasion occurred. To this first bill, Lowderback added additional currency, taping the bills one to another, creating a “portable memorial” of her military service and a “portable scrapbook” of her adventures.

A short snorter was light and easy to tuck into a pocket. Lowderback’s short snorter documented her travels as she crisscrossed the Pacific. Several of the bills record multiple signatures, suggesting members of flight crews signing together; in total seventy-five men signed fourteen bills to create Lowderback’s short snorter. Currency from Dutch Indonesia was taped to a Philippine peso. Two bills of military currency in Japanese yen frame a one yuan note from the Farmers Bank of China. There are pesos, pounds, and dollars; yen and yuan, guilders and Japanese-issued currency for the countries conquered, and then lost. Bills are brown, green, or blue; a Philippine peso is bright red. The bill from the Central Bank of China is purple, and there are bills that are so crumpled and worn that their origins are difficult to identify. Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands is the only woman pictured; she is joined by various male heads of state, including, of course, George Washington. Japanese bills depict lovely pagodas, cranes, and flowering trees; a Philippine peso is over-stamped with the English word VICTORY.


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