Seventy years ago today, America wasn’t officially involved in World War II. In less than a month, the country would be. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor would thrust the United States into the war and transform the country.
This is a photograph of my (Homefront Heroines Director Kathleen Ryan) mother, Mary Marovich Ryan. It was taken after she enlisted in the WAVES. She came from a large family and grew up on the south side of Chicago. They didn’t have much – it was the Depression and there were a lot of mouths to feed.
But as the war enlisted all of her brothers – except for her younger brother who was too young to join up – enlisted in the military. They joined the Army and the Coast Guard. Two of her brothers joined together. By the time my mother enlisted, every member of her family was in the service, except for that younger brother and a sister who was married with a young child (her younger brother would serve during the Korean War). I love her quote in the article below about wanting a six star pin so she can honor her brothers.
Those of you who have been following the Homefront Heroines project know that my mother didn’t talk much about her military service. I knew that enlisted in mid-1943. She went to New York for boot camp, and then traveled across country on a train to head to her specialty training at a Naval Hospital in California as a pharmacist’s mate. A pharmacist’s mate helped out in various medical capacities; my mother actually worked in the pharmacy. She was stationed at Treasure Island in San Francisco where she met my father, a pilot in the Army Air Forces. She was decommissioned shortly after V-J Day, and she and my father eventually settled about an hour north of New York City in a town along the Hudson River.
But she kept things. Like these photographs (including the one above of a celebration at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco with a group of friends) and the articles about her service. Or a book discussing the properties of various prescription drugs. Or gloves. Dozens of pairs of white cotton gloves, which were part of the formal WAVES uniform. And before she died, she asked that she be buried with military honors, commemorated by a headstone listing her dates of service.
On this Veteran’s Day, we salute all of those who offered their service to our country, including those Homefront Heroines who blazed a trail for women in the future – in the military, of course, but also in the civilian workplace.