“Not Going to Make It”

SPARs, the Coast Guard women, had similar training as WAVES.  SPAR Dorothy Riley Dempsey remembers the physical training as being extremely taxing.

We were not prepared for boot camp. We had to jump through the tires, you know. Then the next thing we had to do was we had to scale a wall.  We couldn’t do it.  I said to the girl in back of me, “Quinn, push, because I’ll never get over that wall.”

There was a big rope and it had a knot on it.  And there was a pit with mud here.  We had to back up and jump and my friend Quinn who was with me, I said, “Quinn, I’m never going to make that pit.”  And she said, “Neither am I.”  So we sneaked over to another line. We never had to go over it.  We didn’t get caught.  I said, “If we’re caught, we’re out. They’ll get rid of us.”

The photo comes from a Navy post card set produced about the Hunter College boot camp. It’s from the Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project at the University of North Carolina Greensboro.

Boot Camp and Beyond

In the spring of 1943 Hunter College in the Bronx, N.Y. (now Lehman College), opened a WAVES training school.  Women were sent here for boot camp where they learned things like Naval history and marching.  They also took placement tests to find out which Navy jobs best suited their skills.

Homefront Heroines is experimenting with a new model of storytelling. We’re creating exhibits geotagged with the location of various locations important to the WAVES, like Hunter College, its buildings and surrounding apartments, with TagWhat –  as discussed in this previous post.  The posts will include video footage, interviews and interesting stories about the WAVES.

Irene Bendnekoff is one of the women we’re featuring:

So what does this mean? Check out the full exhibit here, or download the TagWhat app on your smartphone, head to the Bronx. The exhibit will pop up on your phone – you can see the WAVES’ story while your at a location important to the WAVES!  We love this method of storytelling and would love to know what you think.

Learn about the placement process, training facilities, and hear the stories of many of these WAVES in this Specialty Training exhibit.

Rain Clouds

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.

Photobucket

“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.” 

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

Photobucket
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)