VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- Women of the sea services celebrated the 70th anniversary of WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) July 28 with a special luncheon held in Virginia Beach, Va. by the Tidewater Tidal WAVES Chapter.
The event celebrated the past and present legacy of women's service in the Navy, Coast Guard, and Marines by highlighting each female servicemember in attendance, ranging in age from 19 to 88 years old.
Women who attended the event embraced their common thread of service by sharing stories of their time while serving in the Navy. For some of the WAVES in attendance, their time in service was cut short due their decision to get married or have children - a decision that meant an automatic discharge before 1976.
"The overall experience today has been incredibly humbling," said Capt. Mary Jackson, commanding officer of Naval Station Norfolk and the anniversary celebration guest speaker. "To speak to these women and hear their stories firsthand is remarkable...they are the true trailblazers and it is upon their shoulders we stand," Jackson said.
When asked what her military service meant to her, retired Navy WAVE Cmdr. Libby Morrison shared that "the Navy provided me the ability to fulfill a dream and seek a college education." Morrison enlisted in the Navy in 1961, after repeatedly eyeing Navy recruitment posters plastered up at her local post office. Morrison later earned her commission and retired in 1988 after 27 years of service in the Navy. "Coming from a home where neither parent was able to get past a grade school level education, the Navy gave me that opportunity," said Morrison. "My parents couldn't have been prouder."
One of the honored guests for the special WAVES event was 88-year old Dame Mary Sigillo Barraco, a U.S. citizen who found herself in the middle of World War II living as a teen with her mother in Europe. She shared her firsthand story of witnessing when Nazi Germany overtook the country of Belgium in 1941 and her decision to join the "Freedom Fighters" from 1941-1945. Barraco was responsible for helping free numerous Allied servicemen, fellow partisans, Jewish citizens, and others that were held by the Nazi in prisons and detention camps, and Barroco herself was caught and held captive by the Gestapo.
During the event, Barraco shared with attendees stories the horrors that she endured during the months she was detained, which included the news of her fiance being executed. She credits her eventual freedom to the work of the American military, describing her view from a tiny prison cell as she watched Americans planes flying overhead - that is the moment she described she knew her life had been saved. Without a dry eye in the room, Barraco thanked the women of the WAVES and each uniformed servicewoman in attendance for their courage to serve and for maintaining the legacy of those who paved the way for future generations of service, stating she was "proud and deeply appreciated the sacrifices made on her and her fellow citizens behalf."
The celebration also included a presentation of the 2012 WAVES National Scholarship Award and a special WAVES memorabilia auction, with 75 percent of all proceeds going to local Department of vetern Affairs hospitals in support of women veterans.
The Women's Reserve, unofficially known as WAVES, was established in 1938 with the passing of Public Law 689, which was later amended and signed by then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt July 30, 1942. Wellesley College president, Mildred McAfee, was selected to lead the new Women's Reserve and was sworn in as a lieutenant commander August 3, 1942.
During World War II, 90,000 female officers and enlisted naval Reservists and were stationed at U.S. shore commands as well as overseas. WAVES served as air traffic controllers, artists, cryptologists, hospital corpsmen, linguists, and weather specialists. During World War II, 81 nurses were taken prisoner by the Japanese in Guam and in the Republic of the Philippines.
Through the direct contributions of over 350,000 women who served in the military during World War II, military and congressional leaders were convinced that women should be allowed to serve not only during times of war, but also during times of peace. In July 1948, the Women's Armed Service Act allowed for the first women to be sworn onto regular active duty. The WAVES were later disestablished in 1972, in order to integrate women into the main functions of the Navy.