Nana was a WWII veteran (Part III)

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Millie with her closest friends, Fran and Ski. They are spending the day in Pensacola doing some shopping. A store selling Navy uniforms advertises war bonds and stamps. (Image source: M. Kaiser WAVES scrapbook)

This is Part III of a series dedicated to my grandmother’s WWII military service. Click here to read Part I or Click here to read Part II. 

My grandmother (Nana), Millie Kaiser, joined the Navy WAVES in April of 1944. As mentioned earlier in the series, she was stationed at Saufley Field in Pensacola, Florida. While much of her time was spent at work, most of her fondest memories were spending time with her friends during their off-hours.

Free Time with Friends

Millie was pretty shy, but she quickly made a few friends. She became very close friends with two girls in particular, Ski and Francis. Fran was from Grand Rapids, Michigan and worked in the office. Ski worked in the mail room, and was from Chicago. Most of Nana’s memories from her WAVES days were centered around the adventures that she had with her friends in their free time. Going to the beach became a favorite on warm days. A woman who worked in the office with Fran had a car, and would take the girls to town to get watermelons or visit the beach. Fran and Ski went into town every Friday to attend mass, and Millie would tag along, waiting in the back pew until it was done, and then they’d spend a couple hours around town or enjoying the sunshine in the park. They also went shopping and sight-seeing with friends in Pensacola and nearby cities. Millie recalled, “We went to New Orleans a few times, though we weren’t supposed to, because it was over 200 miles away, and it was out of bounds, you know. We also went to Mobile and some other cities.” The trio loved to take trips out of town when they had a day off. Luckily, no matter how far they went, they always made it back to the base without a problem. During longer holidays and leaves, they would often visit each other’s families. The three of them stayed close friends for the rest of their lives.

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Millie and Fran spending a sunny day on the beach with a picnic lunch (packed inside a Hershey’s chocolate box!) (Image source: M. Kaiser WAVES scrapbook)
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Ed and Millie at the zoo when she was home on leave. (Image source: M. Kaiser WAVES scrapbook)

She sent frequent letters home to her family and to my grandfather, Ed Drake, whom she had already started dating before she signed up for the WAVES. Ed was exempt from joining the military because he was a farmer, and farmers were still needed at home to provide food for the country. Millie had a long break for Christmas, so she and Ski took the train from Florida to Chicago, but there was no way to get out to DeKalb where she lived. Gas was rationed, and no one was able to drive her the 60 miles home. Ed was a farmer, so he had gotten a few extra gas rations for his tractor. He had saved up enough gas to drive to Chicago to surprise them with a drive home!

“It was quite an experience.”

After the war was finished, Millie was discharged in February of 1946. She had spent 22 months as a Navy WAVE. She went back home to Illinois and four months later, married Ed. Although she was proud to serve her country, she was also very humble about her time in the WAVES. She knew her service was important, but she felt that she hadn’t sacrificed as much as others did during the war. She highly respected the men and women who served overseas and in combat. WWII was the first time that women could serve in large numbers in the military, and after the war, they didn’t receive the same benefits as the men, such as the benefits from the G.I. bill. Luckily, over time, women’s military roles during WWII have been gaining more recognition. Even though they weren’t always on the front lines, the women serving state-side were nevertheless essential to the war effort and our eventual victory.

To sum up her experience as a WAVE, she said, “It was quite an experience.”

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Ski, Fran and Millie remained good friends for the rest of their lives. (Image Source: M. Kaiser WAVES scrapbook)

Sources:

  • Interview with Mildred (Kaiser) Drake, conducted by Eva Weil, 2015.
  • Interview with Mildred (Kaiser) Drake, conducted by Rebecca Weil, 2015.
  • Interview with Mildred (Kaiser) Drake, conducted by Eva Weil, 2005.
  • Photos from private collection, Mildred (Kaiser) Drake’s WAVES photo album, 1944-1946.
  • Women of WWII website
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A Kaiser in the Great War

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.

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My great-grandfather, Glenn M. Kaiser, in his Army uniform during WWI. He served overseas in Germany, primarily as a cook. (Image source: Kaiser family photo)

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!

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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

Remembering Pearl Harbor

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.

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The attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. (Family photo)

 

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The attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. (Family photo)

 

Nana was a WWII veteran

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At the age of 20, my Nana (Millie Kaiser) joined the Navy WAVES. She served for 22 months during WWII.

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?

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Millie’s senior portrait, 1942.

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

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Raising the flag at the Hunter College campus, Bronx, New York, as it is placed in commission as the basic training center for Navy and Coast Guard women, 8 Feb 1943. Millie arrived here for basic training in the spring of 1944. Source: Women of WWII

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!

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A group of WAVES at basic training at Hunter College. Millie is in the front row, second from the left. Because they are wearing all navy caps, they are still “freshman.” When you were through training, you could wear the white and navy caps. May 1944.
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Company 33B marching in formation at the Armory. Millie is in the third or fourth row from the back. May 1944.
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WAVES on liberty from boot camp in the Bronx, New York, visit the Statue of Liberty, c. 1943. The photograph comes from the National Archives. Source: Homefront Heroines: The Waves of World War II.

 

 

To be continued…