The Post-a-Day Challenge

WordPress, the web platform we’re using to create our blog, has issued a “post-a-day” challenge. It’s a way for those who have a blog to flex their writing muscles for National Novel Writing Month in November, where writers around the globe each attempt to write their 50,000 word novel in a one month time period. FYI, that would mean writ between 1600 and 1700 words a day.  A lot.

We’re not sure that this project will become a 50,000 word novel. After all, that would be in addition to the film, website and smartphone elements we’ve already created (or are creating). So we’re using this challenge as an incentive to keep up short daily posts while we’re working on the more complex elements of the film.

We’re thinking our “post-a-day” will initially include artifacts from archives which we really enjoy.

Today’s artifacts are two about the WAVES recruits. Both images came from the National Archives in College Park, Maryland and was part of a larger collection they have of Navy photographs. There are (conservatively) tens of thousands of World War II-era Navy photographs in the archive, and in May of 2010 the Homefront Heroines producer and director spent several days there digitizing images for the documentary.

In the image above, WAVES recruits are taking the oath of office with Lt. Stewart (at left in the image). in April of 1944.

In this photo from February of 1943, women who have volunteered to be WAVES and SPARs (the WAVES’ Coast Guard counterparts) are getting ready to board a special subway train in New York which will take them to commissioning ceremonies at the WAVES boot camp, Hunter College. They’re part of a group of 418 women who first took part in a mass swearing in at City Hall in lower Manhattan, and then headed up to Hunter as the first class of boots at the new training center.

Experiments in Storytelling

We’ve been neglecting the blog a bit recently, because we’ve been experimenting with a new storytelling platform. TagWhat brings virtual reality to storytelling, allowing us to geo-tag artifacts and share them with people via the smart phone app. In our case, we’re telling a part of Margaret Anderson Thorngate’s story. But while the blog brings her story to you in your home or office (or wherever), in TagWhat we can also bring her story to the location. So if the user has the app downloaded to a smartphone and goes to the U.S.S. Missouri, Margaret’s story about her experiences aboard the ship pops up on the phone for the user to see.  You can also watch it online.

We think that this can be another platform, in addition to our website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, and, of course, this blog to share the story of the Navy WAVES and Coast Guard SPARs.

It’s a pretty cool format. Take a look at Margaret’s story and let us know what you think – even if you haven’t seen it at the Missouri.

Thorngate @ the U.S.S. Missouri
Margaret Anderson Thorngate visits the U.S.S. Missouri

Woman in a Man’s World

Janette experienced the good and bad of America’s reaction to women in military service. The concept of women in uniform was completely new to many Americans. They were used to seeing women participate in the military as nurses, but not taking the same jobs as men.

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After more than a year and a half in the service, Janette went home to Indiana to visit friends and family.  She shares one negative encounter she had with the sister of a childhood friend:

” I go in the house, I guess. Her sister was in there. I didn’t know her sister. I had never met her sister. I was in uniform because you had to wear them all the time.  And her sister said …

‘I want you to leave!’ Just as soon as I stepped in the door.

She wanted me to leave; I couldn’t imagine what was going on.  And Teresa, this friend of mine, said to her … ‘What do you mean?’

She [the sister] said, ‘It’s because of her that my husband has to go out on a ship and any woman in uniform should not be in.’  She said, ‘It’s the worst thing that ever happened to our country.’

You see, from her point of view, that was how she thought. But I, I was astounded.  I just said, ‘Oh, no, they need everybody.’ … Then I turned around and left. There was no point in arguing or anything.  But I’ll never forget that because that was a shocker.”

Janette also had positive experiences where she was honored for her service in touching ways.  She shares about an experience she had in the bus station while returning to the base from her visit home:

“I was walking through the station and a very elderly man said, ‘Ma’am?’ And I looked at him. He said, ‘Here’s 50 cents I would like to give you.’

And I said, ‘Oh, no.  I don’t need that. I’m going back to the base.’  

He said, ‘No, I just want to give it to some service person.’

I kept saying, no, but finally I saw he was so patriotic he just wanted to give it — see, it almost makes me cry to think about it.  And I so I took it and thanked him and went on. That was his contribution. I’ll never forget that.”

Tomboy

Janette finished a bachelor’s degree at Purdue University. She minored in physical education, which was her passion and got her major in home economics. Through her four years in school she spent most of her free time in the gymnasium as a member of the athletic association.

When she graduated she got a job teaching home economics and coordinating 4H in an high school in northern Indiana, but she didn’t stay there for long. Pearl Harbor was struck and the very next day Janette signed up for the WAVES.

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(‘Coach Janette’ pictured above on the bottom row, left.)

Her love for sports started when she was a child. Her father was an avid sports fan and would play catch with Janette and her sister after he came in from working in the fields at night.

After officer training, Janette was sent back to Pensacola as an athletic officer. She and another WAVE set up an athletic program so that the women could pick and choose athletic activities each day in order to fulfill their physical fitness requirements. She even arranged for the WAVES to have athletic clothes that they could use, since their uniform set didn’t include anything suitable for playing sports.
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“If a man could check out shorts or get shorts, see, for the activity, so could the women. See that was the first time I’d come up with equality.” – Janette Alpaugh

Janette Shaffer Alpaugh

Janette Alpaugh (Shaffer at the time), originally from Indiana, joined the WAVES in January 1943. She was part of the second class of WAVES to attend boot camp in Cedar Falls, Iowa. After boot camp she applied to become a Link trainer, where she learned how to instruct men who were training as pilots in flight simulation. Janette was stationed in Pensacola, Fla., as a link trainer before she went on to become a WAVES officer.

She grew up on a big farm, north of Indianapolis, where she says she was raised like a boy. While Janette’s girlfriends were helping their mothers in the kitchen, Janette and her sister were helping her father with the farm. The family only had one boy,  Janette’s younger brother, and everyone’s help was needed. Her time working on the farm, however, gave her a passion for hard work and athletics. Photobucket
“[My Father] treated us just like boys. We did farm work that any boy our age would have done.”

Sharing Her Experiences

Helen and her husband had four children together, three girls and a boy. They were married nearly 30 years when Chuck was killed in a plane crash in Mexico City in 1979. The crash was all over the news and Helen’s friends and family did their best to shelter her from all the coverage.Photobucket

Helen and Chuck, pictured above, at the last party they attended together.

Helen turned 80 years old in 2000 and moved in to a retirement community. It was too boring for her though! She couldn’t stand all the talk about blood pressure and gossip about ambulance visits.

That was when she decided to start writing a book and share all of her experiences. She started on an old typewriter until it broke down and her son bought her a computer.  With the help of her children, “Okay, Girls – Man Your Bunks!”  was published in 2006.  A copy of the book can be found here.  In the book Helen goes into greater detail about her experience in the WAVES, her struggle with alcoholism as an adult, and her family and marriage.

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The Duties of a Servicewoman

At radio school in Madison, Wis., Helen learned Morse code and did communications work during the first part of the war.  She and the other girls in the office would receive 24-hour news through the teletype machine and they were responsible to hand out a printed version and pass along any important information.  They also communicated to other bases through code and operated telephone banks.

In November of 1943, Helen began working at the Air Traffic Control on the main base in Corpus Christi.  There she worked with pilots, giving weather conditions, keeping track of flights and controlling the flow of air traffic.  SNJ planes were used for training during World War II and Helen’s first airplane ride was on one of these small aircraft.  Pictured below are two Navy WAVES washing an SNJ training plane in Florida.

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(U.S. Navy Photograph)

Helen and her husband, Chuck, who was a pilot, later bought their own SNJ plane. They are pictured below riding in the plane over Palm Springs, Calif.
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Something About Men in Uniform

Helen speaks boldly about what it was like to date service men during wartime. She admits that it was difficult knowing they may be shipped out the next day and never return. “We needed love,” she says.

Below: One of the men Helen dated for nearly a year, Bill from Arkansas.  The girls jokingly called him the “greek god” because of his good looks and  Helen complains that other women were always hitting on him in front of her.

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“We were young and we were at the peak or our hormones and there was a damn war going on. There was a war going on.  OK, we went to bed with guys. We made love. It felt good. It felt safe. It wasn’t something that we were running around getting money for or doing every days. We were in some people’s eyes, promiscuous. In my eyes, we were normal.”

Helen met her husband, Chuck, a commercial pilot, in the Los Angeles airport after the war where she worked in an airport restaurant. Their first date, oddly enough was at a strip club, and it was something they laughed about from that day on.  They were married in Los Angeles in March of 1951.

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“Chuck was 6 foot 4 inches, good-looking, and my favorite thing – a pilot.”

Partners in Crime

Helen’s mother came to visit her in Corpus Christi. Some of the girls, along with Helen, took her to Port Aransas or Mustang Island, off the coast. She took photos of some of the WAVES, insisting they pose on the beach in nothing but their underpants and bras. (Helen is third from the left.)

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“I loved the water …  the ocean is my main thing.”

Though the war was full of horrible things and hard times, Helen wanted to make the best of it.  For her, the easiest way to get through the difficulty was to have fun and embrace those around her.  She grew particularly close to a fellow WAVE named Theda, and they were “partners in crime.”  Theda gained a reputation for sneaking into town in her civilian clothes and was continually getting into trouble for it.  Helen is pictured below (third from the right) with friends, celebrating at the Swan Club.
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“And I remember … a big ol’ Texan that listened to us all arguing one night to the pros and cons of women in the Navy and he sat back and he looked around and he said, well, one thing I can tell y’all. Sure smells better around here.”

Little Helen Edgar

Helen was born in Philadelphia, but because of the Depression, when she was young, her family moved to New Jersey so that her father could find work.  She had one older brother, Jim, who also enlisted in the Navy, shortly after Helen.

Helen started working soda fountain and drugstore jobs when she was 15 and she jokes about going from job to job.  Her life plan was to go to college, get married and have kids. The strike on Pearl Harbor, in 1941, changed her plans and sent her on an adventure into the WAVES.

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“I got fired a lot. I gave too much ice cream to my friends.”