In the midst of terror and destruction, World War II ignited a positive movement that would forever change the world: women in the workforce. While the men were away fighting battles, women stepped up to do factory work and other home front jobs. Iconic figures, such as Rosie the Riveter, rose to the top of pop culture.
Through the urge of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, women’s service branches were also established. In May 1942, Congress instituted the Women’s Army Corps (WACS) where hundreds of women worked in non-combatant jobs. In the Navy, members of Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services (WAVES) held the same status as naval reservists.
In honor of Veterans Day earlier this month, the Aging and Independence Services November newsletter spotlighted one of our local seniors who was a member of the first WAVES. Evelyn Coy (pictured left), talks about her experiences through World War II and how she made an impact on the Allies victory. Read the full story below.
Thank you to Coy and all of our veterans for their service to our country.
She Made WAVES in WII
November 2013 | Ellen Schmeding
Evelyn Coy, 92, loves “when a strapping Marine comes up and wants to shake my hand.”
She is often saluted that way at Veterans Day parades and other public venues where military veterans are recognized. That’s because she served her country before women gained permanent status in the armed services. Evelyn was one of the first WAVES, the Navy’s Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Services in 1942.
The Navy didn’t have uniforms for the WAVES at that point, but she didn’t care. She was so angry about the attack on Pearl Harbor: “When I saw what the Japanese did to our Navy, I was flabbergasted. My heart ached to give back. What way could I help prevent further attacks? You could say it was a calling.”
Her mother was against her daughter leaving their Chicago home to participate in the war effort and hid her birth certificate, but Evelyn bought a duplicate at City Hall and signed up on her 21st birthday. She ended up working as a cryptologist in a Washington, D.C., communications center. She learned to crack coded messages using floor-to-ceiling computers. She worked there until the end of WWII, about three years. She says she would have continued if she could have, but that wasn’t permitted at the time. The Navy officially ended the WAVES in 1948, when women were allowed to enlist into the military.
But belonging to the WAVES wasn’t the end of Evelyn’s involvement in the Navy. She met and married a career Navy officer, moving with him to San Diego in 1946. “Serving your country influences your life forever,” says Evelyn, who has created deep bonds with other Navy families that served her well as her son grew up, as she worked 21 years for the City of San Diego Planning Department and later after her husband’s death in 1963. “There’s always been a feeling of belonging.”
She has remained closed to other WAVES who are still alive, and talks about the friends she has lost: “They were my buddies. We were buddies until the day they died.” Evelyn is a charter member of the WAVES National, saying there were 160 units and are now down to 16.
Evelyn doesn’t let these losses slow her down, however. She remains upbeat, enjoying her life. She belongs to two golf clubs, goes to Gold’s Gym twice a week for water exercise classes and continues to do her own cooking and cleaning. She makes new friends through the many veteran-related and other organizations she has joined.
She just attended a seminar for women veterans and didn’t mind that she was the oldest woman there. She loved the speakers and enjoyed seeing the younger veterans getting help to find jobs.
“The opportunities now for learning and earning power were not available when we were there,” she says.
She’s excited that women have made progress in the military, including promotions. “Now 17 percent of the Navy is women. And they’re going to be on subs.”
She’s preparing to participate in the Veterans Day parade as she has every year: “There are eight or nine girls (WAVES) who go. We used to walk, but now we enjoy the convertibles.”
And she’ll be waiting for some strapping Marine to shake her hand.