Today is the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into World War I. My great-grandfather, Glenn Kaiser, joined the army in September of 1917. He served overseas, fighting in Germany in the 127th Infantry, 32nd Division, eventually being discharged in May of 1919. To remember the 100th anniversary of America’s engagement in WWI, I will be sharing some of his intriguing photos from The Great War.
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.
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.
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!
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…
- 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
American lives were changed forever when Pearl Harbor was attacked on Dec. 7, 1941. My grandmother’s stepfather, Wally Jordan, served in the Navy later during WWII, and was stationed at Pearl Harbor for a brief time. He was not there during the attacks, but had photos of the attacks with his other military photos. I’m guessing the prints were offered by the military. Let’s not forget those who died defending their country 75 years ago.
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…