Local WAVES are riding on high tide.
Members of Gulf Coast WAVES Unit 27 are celebrating their 25th anniversary today with a dinner and program at 5 p.m. at Timber Pines Country Club. At least 17 members and seven WAC supporters plus spouses and friends will mark the anniversary.
The woman who presented the unit's charter on July 4, 1986, Berenice George, WAVES Florida state director at the time who was also the national organization's president from 1988-1992, will deliver the keynote address.
WAVES, Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services, has its roots in the establishment of the Navy Nurse Corps in 1908. The organization later grew to include all Navy, Marine and Coast Guard servicewomen.
When the Women's Armed Services Integration Act became law June 12, 1948, women gained permanent status in the armed services. Although the WAVES officially ceased to exist and the term WAVES was retired in 1972, the acronym was in common use well into the 1970s.
Today, it is often used to include women who served in any of the related maritime services.
The women of the local unit served in intelligence and radio communications, aviation mechanics, nursing at military hospitals, air traffic control, submarine tendering, personnel deployment and oversight, court reporting, military supply store keeping, aviation metalsmithing and the chauffeuring of generals, according to a compilation by the unit's current vice president and unofficial historian, Lee Lund, 89.
During World War II, she provided personnel support, responding to generals' requests for manpower.
Other unit members' enlisted records carry from World War II through the Korean War, Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm. Their serving time ranged from 11/2 years to nearly 20 years.
Yeoman second class Lund, from 1943 through 1946, worked in personnel deployment with the Navy out of Arlington, Va., directing men to various assignments according to their credentials and the needs' requests from generals.
Her fondest memories? "Many," she said, noting the meeting of actor-dancer Gene Kelly at a military dance in Washington. He invited Lund's group to join him. "They turned him down," Lund said, shaking her head. "Can you imagine?"
She recalled the day President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died, and following in procession the cortege to his funeral.
Lund holds a picture of a park with tall trees now, where her barracks used to stand. "Those were good years," she mused this week.
Barbara McCarthy, current unit president, joined the Navy at age 18 for service during the Korean War, 1953-1955. She was set to go to nursing school in New York City two weeks before she enlisted.
"I didn't want to be that close to home," she said. "So, I joined the Navy and it worked." Three other women around the table who shared similar stories nodded in agreement.
"I was a lowly seaman," McCarthy said of her rank. Yet she worked in communications, deciphering codes, secretive and sensitive work. Her worst experience, she related, was when she announced her intention to resign and was assigned for the duration of her stint to cleaning the chief's quarters.
Nonetheless, she then entered the military civil service with the Navy and Air Force, serving at Eglin Air Force Base and working in accounting and finance over a long career.
Chris Gonzales shares a background with McCarthy. Gonzales, a Navy veteran, too, worked in cryptography, codes and communications, but during a more recent era, 1975 to 1993.
She shipped around much of the globe: Alaska, San Diego, Hawaii, Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, Australia, until she achieved the rank of captain and then suffered an on-board accident.
While on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific, a mooring line snapped, striking her back and breaking it. She spent 18 months in medical facilities and, with metal pins in her back, still does not sit normally.
Gonzales is only 55. "She's our baby," smiled Lund.
While her fellow unit WAVES carried out needed jobs, Elsie King, now in her 80s but won't commit to an actual age, took risks.
At age 20, she began with the Naval Air Force from 1944 to 1946 and was stationed at the Naval Air Station at Jacksonville.
"Airplanes then weren't what they are now," she pointed out. She back-seated with the test pilots, checking on their expertise and inspecting radar operation.
Although her WAVE peers asked, incredulously, if she wasn't scared, King declared, "I just plain enjoyed it all."
Contact Beth Gray at email@example.com.
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Did you serve?
For information about joining Gulf Coast WAVES Unit 27, contact Barbara McCarthy at (352) 683-7119.