Coveted Assignment

WAVES worked in a wide variety of jobs, but many of the women with teaching experience like Jean Clark ended up in instructional positions. Jean wanted to become a Link Trainer, which used an early form of flight simulation to train men in piloting skills.

We had to take aptitude tests.  Now, I’m going to brag a little bit. Partly, I think, because I’d been a teacher. All of the girls who were chosen to go to Link School had been in education. I think they felt, “They’ve already learned how to teach.  After that, we can teach them the subject matter and they can teach it.” That was their theory I’m sure. They said it was the top thing and if it was the top thing, that’s what I want (laughs).  So, everybody was envious if we got it. There were only 50 of us I think that got it. So not too many.

This is a photo of Jean training a man in the Link flight simulator. It comes from the collection of Jean Clark.

Sneaking Onto Base

Jean Clark’s husband, Lou, had enlisted in the National Guard before the war. By December of 1941, he was in training at Fort Lewis outside of Tacoma, Washington. They got word they were shipping out in February, so Jean decided to head up to the base and visit.

At night they called a muster and they lined up with all their gear in line and we just watched them as they marched by. They came close enough that they could give us a hug and say goodbye but that was it. I stood there thinking, “Boy, I feel like I’m in a movie just (laughs)”

But there was a problem with this cinematic scene. The base was shut down and Jean was stuck inside with another woman who had also come to see her husband off.

We decided, “We might as well stay here. There’s no bus at this time of night.”  So, went into the place. There wasn’t a scrap of anything.  We found an old blanket. We said we didn’t want to sleep on the floor because it looked a little bit chewed (laughs).  My friend said, “My husband says they have rats in this place.”  So we got up on the meat block and spread out and put the blanket over us and went to sleep until morning when we heard this guard going — he was supposedly guarding. I don’t know what he was guarding, but everybody was gone (laughs).  But he was on guard duty.

He’d go one side of the building. Click. Turn in a military manner. Down the other side of the building. Click.  Down the other side. We watched him. We thought, “Wheres’ he going to be?” So while he was on the back side, we went out the door.  (laughs) And headed to the gate. She said, “Maybe they’ll think we’re civilian employees.”  And I think they did. We just walked out and got a bus.

This photograph comes the California State Military Museum.

WAVES Do Swim!

One of the rumors swirling about the military women was the various qualifications they’d need in order to join the different branches. Since the WAVES’ name evoked water, and the WAVES were part of the Navy, one rumor about the WAVES was that a woman had to know how to swim in order to join. Some members of the Women’s Army Corps even now say they didn’t join the WAVES in World War II because they couldn’t swim!

The rumor was false; a woman didn’t have to be a swimmer to join the WAVES.  But swimming was one of the activities women could do to keep in shape.

These WAVES are swimming in the pool at Yeoman Training School at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, circa March 1943. The photograph can be found in the National Archives.

Lost Her Voice

Part of learning military protocol for WAVES including marching in formation. At Smith College, the officers in training marched across the fields on the Smith campus, led by officers like Franny Prindle Taft.


You have to go down by the waterfall to get down to the fields. And hupping the troops over the waterfall. I lost my voice then and it’s never really come back … went down and octave and stayed there.

Taft also remembers marching in formation for dignitaries who would come to visit and learn about the WAVES, such as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

This photograph is courtesy of Franny Prindle Taft.

Love and Marriage

Franny Prindle met her husband-to-be Seth Taft while she was still in college. Seth was the grandson of the former U.S. President William Harding Taft.  They were both officers in the Navy.

Initially, WAVES weren’t allowed to be married. But the Navy discovered that they were losing out on some qualified women (or were forcing them to resign upon marriage). So first women were only allowed to marry outside of the Navy. Then that policy too changed, and WAVES were allowed to marry Navy men.

This photograph is of Franny on her wedding day: June 19, 1943. She and Seth were both Ensigns at the time – he wore his dress whites to the ceremony. She had a half-dozen bridesmaids and changed into her Navy uniform before departing on her honeymoon.

This photograph is courtesy of Franny Prindle Taft.

Why We Fight

The U.S. National Film Registry announced its latest selections late yesterday, and included on the list is a World War II-era documentary propaganda classic. The film is called The Negro Soldier. It follows soldiers from pre-enlistment through basic training.

What was remarkable about the film wasn’t that it included African American soldiers in training (though that was indeed unusual at the time). But what was really incredible is that the filmmakers were specifically instructed to avoid Hollywood stereotypes about African Americans. So the men featured were shown coming from a variety of jobs (lawyers, musicians, athletes). According to film historians Thomas Cripps and James Culbert, the cautions included to:

Avoid stereotypes such as the Negroes’ alleged affinity for watermelon or pork; also avoid strong images of racial identity (‘play down colored soldiers more Negroid in appearance’ and omit ‘Lincoln, emancipation, or any race leaders or friends of the Negro’).

While initially intended for African American military audiences, people who saw the film thought the film should be shown to African American and white audiences, civilian and military, a response which surprised the filmmakers.

The Negro Soldier was directed by Frank Capra, who also directed the famous “Why We Fight” series of propaganda films (1942-1945). These films were designed to raise morale in the U.S. film audience and help people understand the complexities of the war. Capra began working on the films shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Capra saw them as the American answer to German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl’s powerful Triumph of the Will. He used footage mostly produced by the U.S. Office of War Information to craft his seven-film series.

The first film in the “Why We Fight” series, 1942′s Prelude to War, won the Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary in 1943.  The “Why We Fight” series became part of the National Film Registry in 2000. With the addition of The Negro Soldier, this means that another important part of World War II-era domestic propaganda will be restored and preserved in the Library of Congress for future generations.

World War II women didn’t get the Capra treatment. However, this OWI film Glamour Girls of 1943 does show how the government was trying to get women to participate in the war effort as well.


Three thousand miles of widely varied terrain – from mountains to deserts, swamps to farmland. Another three thousand miles or so across the Pacific Ocean. That’s the distance that separates Pearl Harbor from Washington, DC.

WACs operate a teletype machine during World War II.

While today communication across the world is nearly instantaneous, in 1941 there were some challenges. Starting with the time difference. When the attack began in Pearl Harbor at 8am local time, it was 1pm on the east coast – it ended close to 3pm. And forget the immediacy of the internet: news was spread by telephone, morse code or telegraph machines, which transmitted news stories via a cable. In this case, a cable stretched for miles underneath the Pacific Ocean.

The initial reports about the attack spread on December 7th, through breaking news updates on local radio stations (remember these were the days before television). And the next day, December 8th, President Franklin Roosevelt announced that the United States was at war.

70 Years Ago….

It was in the just-past-dawn hours of a quiet Sunday morning at an exotic base for U.S. military personnel. The ships were anchored in the port, lined up like sailors at attention waiting for an inspection. A routine day.

And just after 6am, the first wave of Japanese planes launched from Japanese carriers in the Pacific. Two hours later, the planes reached their targets. Pearl Harbor.

More than 90 ships were docked in the harbor, including eight battleships. The USS Pennsylvania was in dry dock on one side of the harbor. The rest sat in battleship row:  the USS Oklahoma, the USS West Virginia, the USS California, the USS Maryland, the USS Tennessee, the USS Nevada and the USS Arizona. Five of the ships received some damage in the raid. The USS Oklahoma flipped upside down (“turned turtle” in Navy parlance) and sank. The West Virginia also sank. But a sinking ship can be a slow-moving process and for the most part men were able to escape those ships.

That wasn’t the case for the crew of the USS Arizona. At just after 8am, the ship was hit by an armorpiercing bomb that ignited some of the ammunition aboard the ship. It exploded. And 1,177 men were killed – the largest number of men lost on any ship that day and about half of the total casualties of the attack.

And then came the second wave of Japanese fighters.

By 10am, the attack was over.  Two-thousand and three Americans were dead. Twenty-one ships were sunk or damaged. One-hundred and eighty-eight aircraft were destroyed and another 159 damaged.  Most planes were hit on the tarmac.

The news would gradually trickle back to the mainland that Sunday afternoon. And the world would forever change.

We remember Pearl Harbor.

Why Women Choose the Military

Today approximately 20 percent of all new military recruits are female and 11 percent of the U.S. forces deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have been women. (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America)

Why do women choose military service?  Here’s what Army First Lieutenant Jessica Scott, contributor to the PBS “Regarding War” blog,  says:

” There are a number of things that the military offers that makes joining and staying in the military attractive for women and men alike. According to the Defense Department Advisory Committee on Women in the Services’s Annual Report for 2008, the number one reason women stayed in the military was their sense of job satisfaction and job performance. Other reasons for women to stay in the military included access to health care, education opportunities, a sense of purpose and being part of a team. “

To read her full article click here.

Joining the service in the ’40s was a different story.  Taking the same jobs in the Navy as men had never happened before, the WAVES were breaking out of traditional roles and looking for a way to get involved in the war effort.

Pearl Harbor was a milestone for many WAVES in their decision to join.  Read more about women’s roles in society and the military before WWII on the Homefront Heroines site exhibit “Before the Waves.” 


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.

(‘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.

“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