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.
“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.”
Navy WAVES, pictured above, marching in Cambridge, Mass. (US Navy photograph)
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)
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.
“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.”
From the Navy caption of this February, 1943 photograph by Lt. Wayne Miller:
Daily gym instruction keeps WAVES ship shape at Boot Camp, Cedar Falls, Iowa.
February 1943 would be the last month the Cedar Falls facility at Iowa State Teacher’s College would be used as a boot camp. The Hunter College training center in the Bronx, New York, opened that same month.