Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System
WAVES Veteran Recalls WWII Service
In March, VA joins with the nation to observe National Women's History Month by recognizing and honoring women Veterans. Of the 22.7 million living Veterans, more than 1.8 million are women.
One woman Veteran we would like to recognize is Eleanor Grace, who served in the U.S. Navy medical corps during World War II and treated wounded troops who fought in the Pacific.
Raised in Boston, Mass., Grace graduated from high school in 1942 and joined the Navy as part of the WAVES, "Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service," which was signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt in July 1942.
Grace was one of 84,000 women who served as part of WAVES and who agreed to serve for the duration of the war or six months after. The legislation prohibited WAVES from serving aboard combat ships or aircraft, and initially restricted WAVES to duty in the continental United States.
Late in World War II, WAVES were authorized to serve in certain overseas U.S. possessions. Women were not allowed to serve as regular and permanent members of the military until 1948 with the passage of the Women's Armed Services Integration Act.
Following Boot Camp at Hunter College in New York City, Grace served in naval hospitals in Charlestown, Mass. and Charleston, S.C. and a military rehabilitation hospital in Asheville, N.C.
During her assignment in South Carolina, Grace treated Sailors and Marines who fought in the Pacific battles of Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal and many others.
"The Navy hospital ships came in from the islands and (docked)," said Grace. "Some of the men came in terrible condition," she said. "When that happened, it was just all business and we were just busy all the time and we had to be on call all the time."
Grace did what she could to lift the spirits of the wounded troops.
"A lot of it was, more or less, just trying to keep their spirits up," she said. "We would talk with them about things and listen to them and help them write letters back home. They were glad to see us, but not only for the talking and camaraderie, but also because we were there to help them heal."
During her time in the Navy, Grace felt mostly respected by the men she helped treat and the men she served alongside.
"We weren’t liked by everybody, especially the fellows who were doing the secretarial work," she said. "We took their place, so they could go overseas. But I can’t say that I was in anyway looked down on. I had wonderful roommates and we all stuck together. It was really a pleasant experience, except when you couldn’t help some of the (injured) men."
Grace spoke highly of women currently serving in the armed forces, especially those who are serving in harm’s way overseas.
"I really think that the women now days, I can’t say enough about them," she said. "I think they do a lot more than we did, because they’re allowed to go so many places, where we were stateside. They’re just doing it all. So I give them a lot of credit. I look now and think well, if I had the chance to go in now and go overseas, I don’t think I’d want that."
When asked about her time in uniform, Grace smiled. "It was a very interesting time in my life," she said.
Grace lives in Wagoner and has been a patient at the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center for more than 20 years. She is married with four children and six grandchildren.