The Hidden Heroes of World War II

EvaAnne Johnson, a librarian in the Chicago area, has been doing a great web history of the women who served in the military from DeKalb County.

Those of you who have been following the blog know that my mother was from the greater Chicago area as well (Cook County).

Be sure to give her blog a follow! And if you’re related to a Chicago-area female vet, be sure to get her name on the honor roll!

Mavis Kohler

https://www.wbir.com/article/news/national/military-news/service-and-sacrifice/service-sacrifice-a-girl-who-helped-change-the-world/51-d70e8bdf-6b4e-4541-87a9-64a7b534cfa9

We’re getting caught up on some of the stories you’ve shared with us, like this one from Deb Woolley about her mother.

Her mother was a pharmacist’s mate, and her story was featured on WBIR-TV in September 2020. She died Sept. 6, 2020 at 99 years of age.

Thanks for sharing!

Remembering a Life

We’re continuing our series looking back at the life of Eileen Horner Blakely, who died December 30th at the age of 96.

Eileen met her husband, Walter Earl Blakely, during the Korean War. She was serving in the Navy in Washington, DC. He was a career Navy man, and retired in 1953. She was discharged the same year, after serving a total of five years in the military.

 

Eileen Blakely and her husband posing in jeans and fedoras in front of a 1950s era car.
Eileen and Walter Blakely (Bonnie and Clyde) c. 1958. Photo courtesy Barbara Johnson.

Until her friend Barbara Johnson sent us her obituary, we had never seen this photo of Eileen and Walter as “Bonnie and Clyde.” But it’s a perfect way to capture her spirit and humor.

After their Navy service, the couple moved to Clarkston, Washington, and then to Grants Pass, Oregon, in 1958. She lived there until she died.

Eileen worked for the Siskiyou National Forest (in the engineering section) for 25 years. She was also a member of WAVES National. Walter died in 1987.

After the War

We’re continuing our series looking back at the life of Eileen Horner Blakely, who died December 30th at the age of 96.

Eileen was one of the women who took advantage of the GI Bill, which had passed in 1944 before her first tour of service ended. It had always been her dream to attend college. She took a few night courses at George Washington University, while in Washington D.C., but as soon as she signed the papers to leave the WAVES, she went to Kent State University in Ohio to study Business Administrative Economics.

Her time with the WAVES was not up though. Eileen re-enlisted in 1951 during the Korean War and volunteered for a two-year term. She was again stationed in Washington D.C. and doing Yeoman’s work, except this time as a chief.

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“A chief, you know, has privileges in enlisted cafeterias and stuff and mess halls. And so you go to the head of the line, and that always bothered me. But one time I was just kind of staying back, you know. And one of the other chiefs said, “You get up here” (laughs). So I did.”

…….

One of the highlights of her service was doing research for Captain Walter Karig, who was writing a book about the Korean War.  Her name is listed in the book as a contributor.

 She had planned to stay on with the WAVES permanently, but in May of 1952 she met her husband, Walter, they married in August, and she left the WAVES for good in 1953.  When his service obligations ended, they moved to the West Coast, where Walter had family.  Eileen now lives in Grants Pass, Oregon.

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Karig’s book, where Chief Yeoman Ethel Eileen Horner is listed as a part of his staff.

Operation Crossroads

We’re continuing our series looking back at the life of Eileen Horner Blakely, who died December 30th at the age of 96.

Eileen was positioned in the Bureau of Ships as a “flying squadron,” or a temporary, so she was continually being moved from project to project.  World War II ended in August 1945 and though the WAVES were originally supposed to be kept for duration plus six months, Eileen and others stayed on much longer.

In July 1946, Eileen was assigned to work on Operation Crossroads.  This was a military mission to test nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands.  At that time very little was known about how nuclear weapons were created and Eileen remembers hearing terms such as “nuclear engineer” for the first time that summer.

She looks back at this project as one of the most exciting missions of her service.  (To learn more about Operation Crossroads and the Bikini Atoll blast click here.   To see a gallery of photos from Operation Crossroads click here.) She worked specifically with the USS Wharton, taking care of the paperwork and processing travel orders for the men assigned to this ship that would sail for Bikini Island.  She was even able to wave goodbye to the ship when it left. The damaging effects of this nuclear testing were a difficult surprise for Eileen and she alludes to feeling some responsibility for the “mess” the men were sent into.

PhotobucketThe USS Wharton (U.S. Navy photograph)

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 “I don’t know if any of them realized the power of the atom bomb. To the extent of what it became. Maybe the scientists themselves had an inkling, but I don’t know think they really knew.”

Yeoman’s Work

We’re continuing our series looking back at the life of Eileen Horner Blakely, who died December 30th at the age of 96.

After training at Yeoman’s school in Cedar Falls, Eileen was stationed in Washington D.C.

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The photo above was taken at Iowa State Teacher’s College in Cedar Falls where Eileen (and Thorngate ) trained.

“I always say I joined the Navy to see the sea and I saw D.C.” 

She was in the city when President Roosevelt died in 1943 and remembers seeing, through tears, the riderless horse follow the procession down Pennsylvania Avenue (pictured below).

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 “I really did at that point realize that I was, you know – small  minute part, but a part of history.”

Girls in Blue

We’re continuing our series looking back at the life of Eileen Horner Blakely, who died December 30th at the age of 96.

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“In today’s Navy … I certainly recommend women to do it because they’ve got all the opportunities in the world.” – Eileen Blakely

Eileen Blakely, is pictured below (bottom row, third from left) with Margaret Thorngate (bottom row, fifth from left) in school at Cedar Falls, then the Iowa State Teachers College.  They were not acquainted at the time, but are now both Oregon residents, only three hours apart, and members of the statewide WAVES group.

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“We met some people from all over. I had three people, WAVES roommates, that we stayed together or kept in touch ‘til they died.” – Margaret Thorngate

Eileen Horner Blakely

We’re continuing our series looking back at the life of Eileen Horner Blakely, who died December 30th at the age of 96.

Here, she talks about her experiences in boot camp at Hunter College in New York – specifically, mealtime.

Her story is part of the home video release of Homefront Heroines: The WAVES of World War II.

Rain Clouds

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.

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“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.” 

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

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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)