My grandmother (Nana), Millie Kaiser, joined the Navy WAVES in April of 1944. As mentioned earlier in the series, she was stationed at Saufley Field in Pensacola, Florida. While much of her time was spent at work, most of her fondest memories were spending time with her friends during their off-hours.
Free Time with Friends
Millie was pretty shy, but she quickly made a few friends. She became very close friends with two girls in particular, Ski and Francis. Fran was from Grand Rapids, Michigan and worked in the office. Ski worked in the mail room, and was from Chicago. Most of Nana’s memories from her WAVES days were centered around the adventures that she had with her friends in their free time. Going to the beach became a favorite on warm days. A woman who worked in the office with Fran had a car, and would take the girls to town to get watermelons or visit the beach. Fran and Ski went into town every Friday to attend mass, and Millie would tag along, waiting in the back pew until it was done, and then they’d spend a couple hours around town or enjoying the sunshine in the park. They also went shopping and sight-seeing with friends in Pensacola and nearby cities. Millie recalled, “We went to New Orleans a few times, though we weren’t supposed to, because it was over 200 miles away, and it was out of bounds, you know. We also went to Mobile and some other cities.” The trio loved to take trips out of town when they had a day off. Luckily, no matter how far they went, they always made it back to the base without a problem. During longer holidays and leaves, they would often visit each other’s families. The three of them stayed close friends for the rest of their lives.
She sent frequent letters home to her family and to my grandfather, Ed Drake, whom she had already started dating before she signed up for the WAVES. Ed was exempt from joining the military because he was a farmer, and farmers were still needed at home to provide food for the country. Millie had a long break for Christmas, so she and Ski took the train from Florida to Chicago, but there was no way to get out to DeKalb where she lived. Gas was rationed, and no one was able to drive her the 60 miles home. Ed was a farmer, so he had gotten a few extra gas rations for his tractor. He had saved up enough gas to drive to Chicago to surprise them with a drive home!
“It was quite an experience.”
After the war was finished, Millie was discharged in February of 1946. She had spent 22 months as a Navy WAVE. She went back home to Illinois and four months later, married Ed. Although she was proud to serve her country, she was also very humble about her time in the WAVES. She knew her service was important, but she felt that she hadn’t sacrificed as much as others did during the war. She highly respected the men and women who served overseas and in combat. WWII was the first time that women could serve in large numbers in the military, and after the war, they didn’t receive the same benefits as the men, such as the benefits from the G.I. bill. Luckily, over time, women’s military roles during WWII have been gaining more recognition. Even though they weren’t always on the front lines, the women serving state-side were nevertheless essential to the war effort and our eventual victory.
To sum up her experience as a WAVE, she said, “It was quite an experience.”
- Interview with Mildred (Kaiser) Drake, conducted by Eva Weil, 2015.
- Interview with Mildred (Kaiser) Drake, conducted by Rebecca Weil, 2015.
- Interview with Mildred (Kaiser) Drake, conducted by Eva Weil, 2005.
- Photos from private collection, Mildred (Kaiser) Drake’s WAVES photo album, 1944-1946.
- Women of WWII website