Navy WAVES members recount service to country 70 years later

Elizabeth Robinson was one of the thousands of women who made up the Navy WAVES. (Photo: ABC7)

It has been 70 years since Elizabeth Robinson and thousands of other women heeded the call for women to join the United States Navy during World War II, but her sense of pride has not waned over time.

"When (President) Roosevelt declared that women would become part of the Navy, I was so happy," she says.

In July of 1942, with the nation still reeling from the attack on Pearl Harbor and firmly engaged in the overseas war effort, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an act into law establishing the Navy WAVES - an acronym for "women accepted for volunteer emergency service" - thrusting more than 80,000 women into the war effort.

During that time, the women filled various jobs while the men went into the theater of war.

"When I left home, my mother was thrilled," WAVES member Gladys Hoffmire Martin said. "She put a star in the window and she told me she was a suffragette."

Two other WAVES members, Arlene Howard and Marie Cush, filled jobs to assist the American war effort, including ones with high levels of security.

"I can tell you now what I did, but couldn't tell you (then)," Cush said. "I was sworn to secrecy in the chapel...we worked with the code."

Howard served as a yeoman at a Navy relief office.

"Even though we were women, we could do the job the men could do, and do it well," she said.

The jobs didn't come without challenges for the women, who are now in their 80s and 90s. Robinson says she was once admonished for not wearing stockings.

"I went back to my commander, who told me they were going to court martial me I ever did it again," she says.

These women know, though, that they paved the way for women to become a more active part of the military in the United States. Howard is enthralled with the idea of how prominent some female service members become.

"That's really amazing to meet a woman who is an admiral in today's world," she said.

As for Martin, she's just pleased that she was a part of building something special.

"They say to me that they're proud I paved the way," she said. "I think to myself, 'They picked up the gauntlet and went to the top.'"