Eileen Horner Blakely

We’re continuing our series looking back at the life of Eileen Horner Blakely, who died December 30th at the age of 96.

Here, she talks about her experiences in boot camp at Hunter College in New York – specifically, mealtime.

Her story is part of the home video release of Homefront Heroines: The WAVES of World War II.

Rain Clouds

We’re continuing our series looking back at the life of Eileen Horner Blakely, who died December 30th at the age of 96.

Eileen had a moment of doubt when she was in boot camp.  She remembers waking up at Hunter College in New York to a  particularly rainy and overcast morning.  The WAVES were marching to breakfast wearing “havelocks.” (A havelock is a covering, pictured below, that hangs down from a military hat for protection in rain or sun. Eileen calls it, “rain gear.”)  She questioned her decision to enlist for a moment that morning.

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“Clump clump clump.  We probably looked like we were nuns from the nunnery or something.  You know, dark clothes, marching along.  And I looked over at the – there was the El train you know, high. You could see the lights of it.  And I thought to myself, “What on earth did I sign up for? What did I think I was doing? Marching along at this ungodly hour to get breakfast? … And that was the one time when I wondered why I was where I was.” 

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Navy WAVES, pictured above, marching in Cambridge, Mass. (US Navy photograph)

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First “chow” is served by the Red Cross at the Hunter College campus, as the facility is placed in service as the basic training center for Navy and Coast Guard women, 8 February 1943. (US Navy photograph)

Time to Enlist

We’re continuing our series remembering the life of Eileen Horner Blakely, who died December 30th at the age of 96.

Eileen remembers hearing about Pearl Harbor while she was at a church meeting.  It was shortly after this infamous attack that her uncles and brother joined the Navy.

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“We knew it was serious, but I don’t think any of us realized how serious, because we were teenagers, you know. So… see, I graduated in June of 1941. That first year, a lot of my classmates were killed… in that first onslaught of the war.”

The fact that the Navy WAVES uniforms were fashionable was a big hit with the women who enlisted.

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“Well, look at khaki. I mean, who looks good in khaki? Or even, you know, that drab green the Marines have. But there was something more exciting about the Navy, and sea, and ships and so forth.”  – Eileen Blakely

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“I would look good in blue, and after all, my uniform was a dress designer: Mainbocher. … My eyes are blue so they matched.  Blue is my color.  ” – Eileen Blakely

Growing up

We’re continuing our series looking back at the life of Eileen Horner Blakely, who died December 30th at the age of 96.

She was born in Orville, OH., but her family moved to Canton, OH., when she was a baby which is where she grew up. Looking back, she knows her family struggled during the Depression, but she doesn’t remember feeling hungry or deprived.  Her father worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad Company and her mother worked in a bakery, but the family still lost their home in 1932. They were able to move into a large house as caretakers, however, and some of Eileen’s fondest memories took place in this house.

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“I remember that we had two peach trees. One was a white peach and one was a yellow peach. Jack [Eileen’s younger brother]and I claimed a tree that was ours. We’d built a old tar paper shack. It was kind of off the garage and had a club – a secret club. Everybody knew where it was, but it was one of those kid things.”

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“We never felt poor because everybody was in the same boat in those days. People would help each other out. “

Remembering Eileen Horner Blakely

We got word that Ethel Eileen Horner Blakely died December 30th at the age on 96. Eileen planned her own birthday party in October, and was an amazing woman. This week in her honor we’re sharing some of our posts about Eileen’s life.

She joined the WAVES in 1944 at 20 years of age. She was persuaded to join along with a church friend whose husband was in the army. Eileen went to Hunter College in the Bronx, New York,  for boot camp and next to Cedar Falls, Iowa, for Yeoman’s school (a “Yeoman” in the Navy does secretarial work). She was in the same school at the same time as Margaret Thorngate, and they are sitting near each other in their unit portrait.

Eileen, originally from Ohio,  saw her life as quiet and dull. She wanted to make a difference and  joining the Navy seemed the patriotic thing to do. With a desire to get out of her comfort zone, she signed up for the WAVES – a place where she was needed.

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“I have an uncle who joined the day after Pearl Harbor … A year later another uncle joined the Navy. The year after that, my brother joined the Navy. So when 1944 came, I decided it was my turn. So I joined the Navy.”

Flag Day

June 14th is Flag Day, the day celebrating the adoption of the U.S. Flag in 1777 by the Second Continental Congress. It was officially established in 1914 via a proclamation by President Woodrow Wilson and was reaffirmed by an Act of Congress in 1949.

Flag Day isn’t an official federal holiday, but it is a state holiday in Pennsylvania (the only state to recognize Flag Day as a holiday).

This photograph shows the retreat ceremony at the WAVES Yeoman School in Cedar Falls. It comes from the Naval History and Heritage Command.

Happy Flag Day!

Mary Marovich Ryan

Today we’re honoring an important women to the Homefront Heroines crew.

March 8th is the birthday of the woman who inspired the Homefront Heroines project. Mary Marovich was born in Chicago on March 8th 1921. She enlisted in the WAVES in 1943 and after boot camp at Hunter College she became a Pharmacist’s Mate based at Treasure Island in San Francisco.

Mary worked as a telephone operator in Chicago before enlisting in the Navy. She followed six of her brothers into the service – four were with the Army, and two were first class petty officers in the Coast Guard (her younger brother would serve in the military in the Korean War).

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Mary said before enlisting:

I’d really like to wear a six star pin (to honor her brothers), but I can’t find a story that sell them!

Mary married James Warren Ryan, an Army Air Corps pilot, while she was in the service. She left in 1945 after V-J Day and died in 1992.

Happy birthday, Mother!

Intermission Story (9) – A Special Woman

What an inspiration.

Pacific Paratrooper

Last December the world lost a very special person, Florence Ebersole Smith Finch, (101).

Florence Ebersole Smith Finch, USCGR (W)

Coast Guard SPAR decorated for combat operations during World War II

By William H. Thiesen, Ph.D.
U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area Historian


Of the thousands of women who have served with honor in the United States Coast Guard, one stands out for her bravery and devotion to duty. Florence Smith Finch, the daughter of a U.S. Army veteran and Filipino mother, was born on the island of Luzon, north of Manila, in Santiago City. She married navy PT boat crewman Charles E. Smith while working for an army intelligence unit located in Manila. In 1942, after the Japanese invaded the Philippines, her young husband died trying to re-supply American and Filipino troops trapped by the enemy on Corregidor Island and the Bataan Peninsula.

After the Japanese occupied Manila, Finch avoided internment…

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