Ruth Kinman used the power of letters to keep romance alive while serving as a WAVE during the war.
My sister, who is 13 months older than I, she decided she was going to go into the WAVES. And I hadn’t thought anything about it. But she decided and she joined. And then this young man I was going with, he was drafted into the Marine Corps. So I thought, “I’m not going to stay here by myself. I’m going to go into the WAVES too.” So that’s why I enlisted.
Ruth stayed in touch with her young Marine, Carl Gaerig, throughout the war. But it wasn’t until the war was nearly over that they began talking seriously about marriage.
He had been discharged because he had been wounded, had been in the hospital and recovered. Then he came to Washington, where I was stationed and so we decided to get married. When we decided to get married I had to get permission from my superior to wear a wedding gown and veil and all that. And my mother came to the wedding and Carl’s mother came tot he wedding from Duquoin, Illinois. It was quite a spectacular occasion for us.
This was in September of 1945, after V-J Day. Shortly after the wedding, Ruth was discharged. She can Carl moved back to Illinois, where they both went to college. We met them aboard the WAVES National Convention Cruise in 2006.
We’ve been married 61 years now, I don’t know where the years have gone.
This photograph was taken of Ruth in 2006 aboard the WAVES National Convention Cruise. It comes courtesy of Mel Kangleon.
Jean Clark was stationed at NAS Lake Washington for the duration of the war. The facility is no longer a Naval Air Station, but is a public park. It’s located in Seattle, along the shores of the lake near the University of Washington’s Seattle campus.
Jean was in charge of the Link Trainer Instructors.
I think probably because I was one of the first ones there. I had a little more training than, I guess, well I had been retained for instructor, too, there. So the commander decided I was going to be in charge of the whole group. We didn’t have that many at first, only four. But then we increased to nine. We had a full complement of all we could use. By that time, when we had nine, we were pretty loaded with personnel.
We were all good friends. All nine of us, still, went out to Seattle when we had liberty and we also after we were discharged, I was the first one to be discharged, we were writing letter. I think we wrote letters for 35 years probably. They came maybe twice a year. We called them a round robin letter. They were sent to the next person you know and we had a mailing list that you followed. It’s interesting. I used to keep all these letters, but I don’t have them any more.
The photograph comes from the collection of Jean Clark.
Jean Clark was in the first class of recruits to be trained at Hunter College in the Bronx. The women were bunked in what were formerly civilian apartments surrounding the campus. There were 12 in her room, all sharing a single shower.
We had to take turns taking showers. One day it was my turn to take my shower and they called — while I was in the shower, hey called from the downstairs “Inspection!” We had been there a little while and we were supposed to have the room shipshape. Everything neat and clean and dusted and at attention in full dress. Here I am in the nude in the shower and here it is five floors down. My bunkmates all start handing me clothes (laughs). I thought, “I’ll make it” and I did, except I didn’t’ get my shoes tied. And I was standing there at attention with my shoelaces dangling. The WAVE officer didn’t notice (laughs).
This photograph shows the WAVES-in-training standing outside of the Bronx apartment building where they were stationed. It comes from the collection of Jean Clark.
It wasn’t all hard work for the WAVES. Even officers tasked with training fellow officers, like Franny Prindle Taft, could find time to break away for the occasionally bit of entertainment.
In this picture, Franny (center) is with another WAVE and an military man. They’re at a place called Pine Orchard, in summer of 1943.
Pine Orchard appears to be a country club or a nightclub or restaurant with an outside patio. We’ve done some basic research and can’t find out anything about it, but would love to know more if anyone has any details.
The photograph is courtesy of Franny Prindle Taft.
The first class of WAVES officers were gathered on special recommendation from people who knew the women who would serve. This was done to make sure that the Navy had women in command who were, in essence, a “known” quantity: women who held certain values, were smart, driven, and would represent the Navy well.
Franny Prindle was one of those women. This is the letter she received from WAVES’ leader Mildred McAfee, inviting her to become a WAVE officer in August of 1942. Prindle was recommended by Vassar College Dean Mildred Thompson, a woman McAfee knew personally from her tenure as dean of Wellesley College.
Prindle returned the application and was a member of the first WAVE officer training class at Smith College. She remained at Smith for the duration of the war, training other officers.
Navy WAVES were active, regular military. That meant they were expected to wear their uniforms during all public functions. Including weddings.
Franny Prindle, like other WAVES of the era, had to get a special dispensation from the Executive Officer of the Naval Reserve to wear something other than her uniform on her wedding day. But note the special conditions: no photographs of Prindle outside of her uniform could be released to the press.
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.
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.
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.
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 Virginiaalso 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.