Ethel LeBlanc Palma was born 2 May 1919 in Timberton, Louisiana, to Cajun parents. She was raised in DeQuincy, Louisiana, where her father owned a bottling plant, and graduated from the local high school in 1936. She attended Draughon's Business College in Houston, Texas, for a year, and then went to work at her uncle 's Coca-Cola bottling plant as a bookkeeper for two years. In 1939, Palma moved to New Orleans and worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
In December of 1942, Palma joined the WAAC. She was sent the following month to Fort Des Moines, Iowa, for basic training. Palma was trained as a recruiter and briefly stationed at the Second Service Command in New York City before being transferred to Watertown, New York, in February 1943. She achieved the rank of corporal before returning to Fort Des Moines for Officer Training School in the summer of 1943. Palma returned to work as a recruiter in Trenton, New Jersey, and Wilmington, Delaware.
In the spring of 1944, Palma was sent to Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, for overseas training. She embarked from San Francisco aboard the West Point in May 1944 and landed two weeks later in Sydney, Australia. A month later, she was sent to Port Moresby, New Guinea, where she censored mail and later worked in a mail sorting unit. Palma was later sent to Biak, an island off the New Guinea coast, to work as a secretary to a general. Then in early 1945, she was stationed in the Philippines, where she returned to mail censoring and sorting duties in Leyte and Manila. In November 1945, Palma returned to the U.S. aboard the converted ferry USS Evangeline, and 2 weeks later married Elwood Palma.
Following her discharge, she was active in the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), serving the Henderson, N.C. Post 7467 as commander. She was also involved in many local civic organizations.