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Members from Unit 77, Redwood Empire Branch, one of 79 WAVES National branches across the country. Photo courtesy of TRACEN Petaluma

 Story by Lt. Erin Chlum

Women’s History Month provides an opportunity for service members to observe and honor a unique group: the WAVES National.  WAVES National was founded in 1979 in homage to the World War II Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES), and continues to be an organization for women who have served or are currently serving in one of the United States’ sea-going services – the Navy, the Marine Corps or the Coast Guard.

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Mrs. Bettie Crandall a Navy storekeeper pictured with three of TRACEN’s storekeepers

During World War II, WAVES served in a wide range of Navy specialties beyond the traditional secretarial and clerical jobs typically held by women.  Thousands served in roles within the aviation community, Judge Advocate General Corps, medical, communications, intelligence, and the science and technology communities.  At the end of WWII, there were more than 8,000 female officers and ten times that number serving as enlisted WAVES, making up about 2.5% of the Navy’s total strength with many remaining in uniform to help carry the service through the post-war era.  The Coast Guard equivalent of the WAVES, SPARS, served in similar capacities within the Coast Guard with over 10,000 women serving at the peak of World War II.

Friday, March 7, Training Center Petaluma was honored to host eight members from Unit 77, the Redwood Empire Branch, one of 79 WAVES National branches across the country.  Training Center Petaluma’s WAVES National luncheon provided Coast Guard personnel from across the base with an opportunity to hear and share personal accounts with Morella Staggs, WWII Coast Guard veteran; Helen Nugent, Marylou Loustalott and Bettie Crandall, WWII Navy veterans; Margaret Enea Patrizi and Emily Sousa, Korean War Era Navy veterans; and Barb Sebring and Flora Haluzak, Vietnam War Era Navy veterans.  Their stories serve as a reminder of the sacrifices made by our nation’s servicewomen during the mid-twentieth century.

Photo 5One story was particularly fascinating to the audience.  Ms. Staggs entered the Coast Guard basic training in Palm Springs, Fla. in December, 1944.  After graduating in the summer of 1945, Staggs was temporarily stationed in Norfolk, Va., before attending Radioman “A” School in Atlantic City, N.J.  From there, she was assigned to San Francisco, Calif., where she worked for the Captain of the Port.

Her memory of her service was fresh; she stood the watch as the war in the Pacific was drawing to a close, and recalled watching the first ship of enemy soldiers arriving at Angel Island for processing.  The Coast Guard ended CWor Morse Code communications in 1999. She was skilled at CW and still remembers how to transmit and receive “dits and dahs.” 

The story of the WAVES — those who are gone and those we are fortunate to meet — is a piece of American history, and reminds us that women have served our nation with honor.

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