Two women remember how war affected their worlds.
Just before 8 a.m., on December 7, 1941, Japanese aircraft attacked Pearl Harbor, an American Naval base near Honolulu, HI. According to History.com, the attack lasted two hours, killed 2,000 soldiers and sailors, wounded 1,000, and demolished 20 ships and 200 aircraft. The next day, the United States was at war with Japan and shortly after that, with Germany and Italy. The following account shows what those first weeks were like for two women.
SHELBY TOWNSHIP, MICHIGAN
What was your life like in December 1941?
I was 21 years old, and living at home with Mom and Dad in Detroit.
Where were you when you heard the news of Pearl Harbor?
I was in the kitchen with my mom. She was making breakfast—coffee and homemade bread. My dad was in the dining room listening to the radio. It was a Sunday morning. My dad came in and said, ‘Josie, you have to come and listen to this, and you, too, Marian.’
What did you hear?
We heard this over the radio: “Pearl Harbor has just been attacked by the Japanese.” My heart fell. My brothers were serving on the same ship in Hawaii. We had just received a letter from them, letting us know they were there.
What did you do when you heard the news?
Many tears poured out – it was not very pleasant. Neighbors came to visit. We couldn’t find out any information.
There was no one to call. We didn’t know if they were alive or dead.
Then what happened?
A young man came to the door toward evening. My mom answered, and there stood a young naval officer. It shook us up. But he came to find out if Mom had received any letters from my brothers in the last week. He took the letter and
told us not to write any more, and not to worry. It was a very sad day – not a happy time.
How did you manage in the following weeks?
Time went by so slowly, it felt like forever. My dad said there was no sense in staying home, so I worked (at Saunders Candy Factory) through the weeks of not knowing. Co-workers would bring me news. I read the paper and listened to the radio every day. Our neighbors brought meals to us daily.
What happened at the holidays?
Christmas was extremely sad. My mom still had a tree up and decorations. We put packages around the tree for Roman and Walter. We were going to mail them, but we didn’t know where to send them. We had no idea if they were alive.
When did you finally get news?
After three long weeks, Roman called, and my dad took the call. Roman said they were OK, but he couldn’t talk long. When I got the message, I didn’t jump for joy. I sat down, I prayed, and I cried tears of joy.
Then what happened?
In March, Roman and Walter visited and told us what happened. At 4 a.m. the morning of the attack, their ship had left Hawaii for the Aleutian Islands. My brothers wrote to us, but we never received the letters.
It still affects you today?
I am the only one left today in my family. I still tear up thinking about that day. It was a very emotional time.
FORT COLLINS, COLORADO
On July 30, 1942, Congress established the U.S. Navy’s Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES)
program. Overseen by female commissioned officers, the WAVES recruited 27,000 women into its ranks within the first year. WAVES served in multiple capacities ranging from secretarial and storekeeper to decoding, navigation and intelligence positions. By the end of World War II, the program claimed 8,000 officers and roughly 80,000 enlisted women, the Navy’s website reports. We offer the story of one woman’s experience.
When and where did you join the WAVES?
I joined on February 19th, 1943 and went to (the U.S. Naval Training Station on the Bronx campus of Hunter College) for
basic training. We were allowed to take two pair of Oxford shoes, a change of clothes and a small bag of personal items. When we got to the train station, it was like a mob scene. By the time I reached the train, it was gone, and there I stood with 20 other women who were left behind. The Navy scheduled another train to come and get us.
What was it like at Hunter?
We arrived just in time to hear, “You don’t belong to your families, you belong to the U.S. Navy, and we will take care of you.” They served us cold milk and cereal – flakes or Rice Crispies – for breakfast, and the boxes didn’t have liners. You had to eat fast so the milk didn’t seep out. One task for me was to go through the hundreds of apartments and make sure
each shower had 13 hooks.
What did you do there?
We worked hard. We learned the Navy’s accounting process, including payroll and meals.
Then where did you go?
I relocated to Indiana University and took the storekeeping course. Then I spent two years and four months as an aviation storekeeper at the Naval Air Station in Hutchinson, Kansas. I issued all needed supplies to the Naval aircraft. I was discharged from the Navy on November 23, 1945 in New York City.