When I was in elementary school, my teacher asked us to interview a veteran as part of a Veteran’s Day project. While asking my grandpa and uncles if they were veterans, I was surprised to discover that my sweet, pie-baking Nana was the World War II hero of our family. She has recently passed away, and so I’d like to share her story in honor of Women’s History Month.
A short history lesson
My Nana (then known as Millie Kaiser) served during WWII in the Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service). In those days, women in the military was not very common. Nevertheless, nearly 350,000 women volunteered for the armed forces during WWII, serving in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACs), the Navy Women’s Reserve (WAVES), the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve (SPARS), the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASPS), the Army Nurses Corps, and the Navy Nurse Corps. Most women in the armed forces served stateside, becoming radio operators, machinists, truck drivers, clerks, and even pilots. The men that would normally do these important jobs were then free to be sent overseas to combat. The contributions of these women were essential to winning the war. (Learn more here.)
Why did Nana join the WAVES?
When Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941, Millie was 18 years old, living in DeKalb, IL. She was a senior in high school, and was about to graduate in June. After graduation, she worked for a while at the Wurlitzer factory in DeKalb. Before the war, they made pianos, but during the war, they switched to making wooden propellors for planes. In about 1944, she heard about the Navy WAVES through a coworker who had signed up for service. Millie enlisted in the WAVES in April of 1944. When I asked her why she joined the WAVES, she said, “It was just something I thought I should do.” Military service was valued in her family. Her father had served in WWI, and several male cousins enlisted during WWII. An added bonus was that she got to travel!
Basic Training in New York
Millie traveled to New York City for training at Hunter College. Training lasted six weeks and consisted of marching, drills, fitness training, and skill training. She said that the highlight of basic training was time off to go sightseeing in NYC. She even got to see the Statue of Liberty. The rest of the time, there was a lot of marching. After training, she was stationed at a naval air station in Pensacola, Florida. Check out more photos of basic training below!
To be continued…