WAVES could, of course, get leaves to spend time with family and friends. But holiday leave – that was another thing. It was highly desirable and tough to get. And the Navy, unlike civilian businesses, didn’t take a day off because it was Christmas.
It wasn’t until 1945 that Betty Bruns Lord would be allowed home – to Mason City, Iowa – for the holidays.
You didn’t get a lot of leave and sometimes you couldn’t get off because you were so busy. Just couldn’t take it when you wanted to. And I know when the boys started coming home — the last year, in ’45, I did get home for Christmas which was something you didn’t get at that time. A lot of the boys said, “Well, uh, uh?” He said, “These girls haven’t been home for Christmas since they joined.” “Oh.” And so Commander Fair, we did get our leaves. We thought for sure we were going to get cancelled. But no no no no. He said, “No, you girls are going home. You haven’t had yours.”
Betty was stationed at Mustin Air Field in Philadelphia working on planes. She was one of the WAVES who not only worked on planes, but knew how to fly them. Her uncle had trained her as a pilot before the war.
Virginia Gilmore was married when she joined the WAVES in 1943. Her husband was a handsome Marine. But in their first Christmas as a married couple they were thousands of miles apart. He was just back from a two-and-a-half year stint in the Pacific, stationed at the Puget Sound Navy Yard in Bremerton, Washington. Virginia was at the other end of the country at WAVE boot camp in Hunter College.
We were there on Christmas Eve. And huge Navy trucks pulled up and they unloaded a filled stocking for every recruit and hung them — they came in and hung them on the corner of our bunks.
We had candy and gum and cookies and little presents. Can you imagine all the thousands — I don’t know what the Navy word is for Navy warehouse, but Navy stores where you could find all those things but we had them.
Joyce Fish Sherwood joined the WAVES in 1942. Like Helen Edgar Gilbert, she was part of the first class of WAVES, who skipped the Hunter College boot camp experience. After enlistment, Joyce was sent to Indiana University in Bloomington for orientation and storekeeper training.
Joyce was stuck in training and Christmas was approaching. So since she couldn’t get home to her family, her family brought Christmas to her.
The three of them came down and stayed in Bloomington and came onto what we called the ship (laughs) to visit and they were allowed to do that. I really don’t have much of a recollection of gift giving or anything like that. Because we had our uniforms by then. We had sent all out civilian clothes home. So there wasn’t much they could give me except stationary (laughs) or things like shampoo and stuff that you would always need.
US Navy Photograph
They were proud. They were proud. I think that had something to do with this patriotism blast we were on, too. All the civilians were, “Oh! You’re in the military!” You know, they were glad to see us and they were appreciative of what we were trying to do.
We’ve been humming Bing Crosby’s White Christmas a lot lately – likely because there’s no risk of not having Christmas snow this year in Colorado. The song first premiered on an NBC radio show in 1941 and was initially released on an album for the film Holiday Inn, about a pair of song and dance men who create a country inn that featured holiday-themed performances.
By October of 1942, White Christmas was released as a single and it quickly shot to the top of the “Your Hit Parade” radio charts. The song perfectly captured the mood of the time. In it, the singer pines for the perfect Christmas:
I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know
Where tree tops glisten, and children listen to hear sleigh bells in the snow…
Those first classes of WAVES were in training during the Christmas of 1942. Helen Gilbert was training to be a radio coder at the University of Wisconsin in Madison:
I remember Bing Crosby’s White Christmas. Every time it went on we were just sobbing. It was crazy…The first Christmas in Wisconsin, it was very sad. We were all homesick. We were just a bunch of young girls who wanted to go home.
White Christmas would later be the inspiration for the film of the same name – featuring former Army buddies (and Broadway stars) who head up to Vermont in the years after the war to help their beloved General’s struggling Vermont inn.
White Christmas is the biggest selling single of all time.
We know the holiday season can be busy. But its also a time when people think about things outside of themselves. Dirty little secret about the Homefront Heroines production crew: Producer David Staton and Director Kathleen Ryan are addicted to made-for-tv holiday movies. Last night’s entry was Dear Santa, where a young well-to-do woman finds a letter a little girl sent to Santa and as a result begins volunteering at a local soup kitchen. She falls in love with the girl’s father, who runs the soup kitchen, and learns to be a better person from the homeless people they serve.
Yes, it’s silly and not particularly sophisticated, but the movie (and others of its ilk) tap into our spirit of generosity over the holidays.
That spirit has taken a hit in recent years. The Chicago Sun-Times reports that charity giving is down from its pre-recession levels (off by about six percent nationally). Meanwhile, federal and state dollars are also down because of cuts in budgets, meaning that charities (and the people and projects they serve) are even more reliant on those independent donors. That’s one of the reasons our multimedia project turned to Kickstarter for a fundraising campaign and why we have a donor wall where people can back the project, pre-ordering the film, sponsoring web exhibits or even becoming an executive producer on the project (complete with an IMDB credit).
We’ve adopted a family through the ACC House of Denver, buying Christmas presents for three kids who otherwise might not get anything under the tree this holiday season.
So what does this have to do with WAVES? The military has a long history of charitable good works (Toys for Tots is a U.S. Marines program). The women who served in the Navy during World War II also gave of their time to help others, through blood drives, war bond sales or other efforts.