Jean Clark’s husband was in the Army, stationed overseas. But that didn’t mean he didn’t stay in touch.

This telegram was sent to Jean while she was stationed at Lake Washington Naval Air Station. It shows her husband’s sense of humor, even as he’s sending her a “love” letter:

Fondest love darling. You are more than ever in my thoughts at this time. Please send me one hundred dollars. Lewis E. Clark.

Maybe telegraphs were the text messages of their day? Minus the emoticons, of course.

The telegraph comes from the collection of Jean Clark.

Flight Pay

WAVES typically didn’t get flight pay, or extra money for serving aboard an aircraft. But Jean Clark did receive some extra training so that she could get the flight pay, as seen in this copy of her certification.

The officer at Lake Washington NAS thought that Jean deserved the extra money. But that meant that she had to fly sometimes. One flight was particularly memorable:

One time he said, “We’re going out. You might want to go.” I said, “OK.”  We’re going to deliver a captain to a flatop. That means we’re taking the captain back to the aircraft carrier.  He says, “They’re out there off the coast,” he said, but he says, “It’s top secret. So you have to keep still about it.”  So we took the captain out to the carrier.  Off the coast of Seattle. It was a rough rough sea. The waves were coming in like crazy.  You might think that landing on water is a soft landing?  It’s like landing on a pile of rocks if you hit water. And it’s bumpy. So we hit down and they put down a small boat from the aircraft carrier to come out and get the captain. They captain came out on the pontoon of the little widgen waiting to get picked off as they came by. They made several swipes. The commander says to me, “You know, they better get him pretty soon. Those waves  are getting pretty high. We may not get out of here.”  I thought “Oop, well, this is it.”  It did look pretty dangerous. Pretty soon, they did grab him and get him off and take him back. The commander says, “Hold on!” And here was this big wave coming towards us.  I mean, big. So he, I could see us heading right into that wave, and we went right into it and right through it and on and we’re airborne.  He says, “Well!  We made it!”  (laughs)  That was the most exciting thing that happened to me when I was in the Navy.

The certification comes from the collection of Jean Clark.

Franny Prindle Taft

Meet Franny Prindle Taft. She was a WAVE during World War II and spent her entire Navy career at Smith College in Northampton, training future officers. Taft was in the first full officer class at Smith College in the fall of 1942.

This photo was taken sometime in 1943 while she was on her honeymoon with her husband Seth Taft (the grandson of President William Howard Taft). They traveled up the Hudson River to Canada; both were officers in the Navy and had met while at college (she at Vassar, he at Yale).

 I did work in cancer research at Yale right after I got out.  That’s where I went immediately after graduation … I was making really almost no money, and I heard about the WAVES.   I didn’t want to go into anything that was kind of just an auxiliary with people jumping around in uniforms and not really doing very much.  And (the secretary to the Dean at Vassar College) assured me it was going to much more than that.

Frannie lives in the Cleveland area, where she teaches at the Cleveland Institute of Art.

This photograph is courtesy of Franny Prindle Taft.

New Year’s Day

Yesterday, we mentioned the idea of showing an image a day through 2012. Today we’re starting out with something festive.

During WWII, messages supporting the war effort were found in all sorts of interesting places. Including in fans.

This fan, found in the Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, shows a woman dressed in patriotic clothing (note the braid and “overseas” hat she’s wearing), drawings of ships in battle at sea, and a copy of the Pledge of Allegiance.

This is the fan folded.

New Year’s Resolutions

Here’s the exciting news: the rough edit of the film is done (!!!) and our fabulous composer Andy Forsberg should have our music composed by mid-February.

So what’s up in the New Year for the Homefront Heroines crew?

Champagn and celebration with Navy WAVES at San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel.

We have some resolutions in place.

  • Blog a WAVES picture a day for 2012
  • Submit the film for ITVS and American Documentary Film Fund financing in January. Then, on to American Experience, who we’re hoping will agree that the story of the WAVES is worth a place on PBS. The funding will help us with our other resolutions.
  • License film footage and archival music
  • Find a firm to do color correction
  • And, find a narrator. We love the idea of :

What do you think?

Here’s to a fabulous 2012 and the debut of Homefront Heroines both for the WAVES at the WAVES National Annual Conference and (ideally) at a film festival or on a television screen near you!

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.

Vogue’s Best Dressed Women

If you talk to one of World War II’s Navy WAVES, you are going to hear about her designer uniform.  The Navy was already known for having “sharp”-looking uniforms for men and with the creation of the WAVES, a lot of thought went into making an appealing uniform for women.  The women took great pride in the comfort, quality make and fashion of their Mainbocher-designed dress.

Fashion designer Main Bocher opened his own shop as an American in Paris in 1929.  He became a sensation in Europe and the United States, with many wealthy clients in both places including the Dutchess of Windsor.  His clothing was beyond what many WAVES could have afforded which is another reason they became prized possessions.

(Main Bocher)
(One of Mainbocher’s most famous designs made famous by Horst’s photo – “Mainbocher Corset”)

The WAVES uniforms were so trendy that in 1943 the WAVES and other women in uniform were named as Vogue’s “Best Dressed Women in the World Today.”

Check out this Exhibit on the uniform identity of the WAVES to learn more.

World War II and Sacrifice

Here are some interesting facts and figures about public sacrifice during World War II:

1. The tax rate for most Americans averaged about 20%. For the richest Americans, the tax rate ranged between 80 and 94%. The government framed taxes as a patriotic duty so that the county could pay for a war on multiple fronts (Europe, Africa, The Pacific) and end that war quickly. American involvement in World War II lasted from December 1942 through August of 1945; the last troops were demobilized by 1946.

2. People were asked to change their eating habits in order to help preserve more essential food for American troops. Things like sugar, butter and meat were all in short supply to the average public. People received ration coupons, which they used when purchasing items.

3. And it wasn’t just eating, People were also limited as to the amount of gasoline they could purchase. By the end of 1942, more than half of the vehicles in the country were limited to just four gallons of fuel a week (cars on average got about 15 MPG). War workers and other “essential” personnel could get more gasoline, but the vast majority of the public was limited in terms of personal driving.

4. Other industrial goods were also rationed. Tires were the first, because most rubber came from the Dutch East Indies, which was controlled by Japan. But steel was also crucial to the war effort. Consumer car production during the war was suspended. Manufacturers looked for alternate ways to package caned food goods.

5. People coped. Magazines discussed ways to use soy and other non-traditional products as meat and sugar substitutes. People planted Victory Gardens, backyard or neighborhood gardens where they could get unlimited amounts of vegetables for the dinner table.

6. Since people couldn’t drive, they turned to mass transportation, which was provided by both cities and towns as well as private companies. Buses served communities large and small across the country, offering a way to get from one place to another. Train service was also more extensive. Americans used mass transit in record numbers, hitting a peak of 23.4 billion riders in 1946. Carpooling was also encouraged.

7. There were other government-mandated restrictions. The government Office of Price Administration froze prices on many raw manufacturing materials in order to stave off inflation which is often common during the war. Women’s hemlines were raised so as to save fabric. People living near the coasts used blackout curtains to keep the cities dark in case of an attack.

8. Men between 18 and 64 had to register for the military draft, and men between 18 and 45 were immediately eligible for induction. Draftees would serve in the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. But people also enlisted for the various services (the Navy was an all-volunteer branch), largely to be in control of their own destinies. About 12 million people were serving in the U.S. military at its peak strength in 1945.

9. Unlike the Depression, when the unemployment rate was around 20%, people were working during World War II. The unemployment rate was less that 2% for most of the war. Stateside people were employed by the military and other government agencies or worked in war production plants (in addition to other businesses, shops, schools, etc., which remained open during the war).  People had a pent up urge to spend the money they made.

10. So, the government asked people to buy War Bonds, essentially helping to financially support the war OVER AND ABOVE the taxes they paid. Bonds matured in 10 years and sold at 75% of their value. Bond sales totaled $185.7 BILLION during the war, and more than 85 million Americans — half the population — purchased them.