Nana was a WWII veteran (part II)

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Millie Kaiser as a WAVE in 1944. (Family photo)

For Women’s History Month, this is Part II of a series dedicated to my grandmother’s WWII military service. Click here to read Part I. 

My Nana, Millie Kaiser, joined the Navy WAVES in 1944 when she was 21 years old, in the middle of WWII. She joined the WAVES because she felt it was the right thing to do for her country. After Basic Training in New York, she had a few days leave at home, and then she was stationed in Pensacola, Florida. Millie had never been that far away from home before. For her, it was an exciting new adventure.

Daily Life as a WAVE

In early summer of 1944, Millie arrived at Saufley Field Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida. She and the other WAVES that arrived with her were the first girls to be stationed at Saufley. Millie was a Seaman, Second class, and was assigned to Tower Two. Her primary job was to log each plane that went in and out of the airfield, looking for the plane number located next to the propeller. Because the pilots had to log a certain number of in-flight hours for training, Millie had to log each minute that each pilot spent in the air. Some days she was pretty busy, but other days, the hours went by slowly.

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A few of the training planes next to the runway. (Family photo)
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Millie working in Tower Two at Saufley Field. The runway can be seen out the window behind her. (Family photo)

It was usually a pretty uneventful job, but occasionally she had a scare when a pilot “didn’t land quite right.” Although a couple of the accidents were severe, very few of the pilots were badly injured while she was there. The rest of the time, the WAVES in the control tower would pass the time listening to Millie’s radio. One Christmas when she was home, Millie’s father gave her a small radio as a gift. They were not supposed to have personal radios in the barracks, so she kept her radio in the control tower to keep herself and the other girls entertained during those long hours. However, radios were in high demand and it was eventually stolen from the tower one night. She had figured that some of the male soldiers stationed there were eager to listen to the radio and helped themselves to it. Her precious radio was never recovered. After that, they had to keep themselves entertained with stories from home.

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Millie and her family, when she was on leave between Basic Training and being stationed in Pensacola, FL in June 1944. (Family photo)

Life in the barracks was pretty routine, and everyone would rotate chores. Millie did not enjoy sitting up at night for the overnight watch. She recalled, “We also had a 24-hour watch in the barracks. There would be two of us. Everyone had to be in at a certain time, and then the doors would be locked. If someone was late, then of course we had to let them in. We rotated shifts, and I would have to work nights every so often.” It was not a glamorous life, but it was an important part of the training base. I know that she missed her family and friends back home, but she always felt safe on the air base, and she always knew that she’d make it back home. She was aware that many of the pilots that she met and helped train would not make it home. Her family was very proud of her!

Kaiser, Millie with Fran and Ski 2
Millie and her close friends Fran and Ski (Family photo)

Free Time on Base

Millie made several close friends while she was stationed in Pensacola, and they would make the most of their free time! Stay tuned for Part III to learn more about their adventures…


Sources:

  • Interview with Mildred (Kaiser) Drake, conducted by Eva Weil, 2015.
  • Interview with Mildred (Kaiser) Drake, conducted by Eva Weil, 2005.
  • Photos from private collection, Mildred (Kaiser) Drake’s Pensacola photo album, 1944-1946.
  • Women of WWII website
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