Monday, December 23, 2019

Christmas, 1942: A Christmas full of joy in service

December 1942 found my mother and other young women at the Naval Training School at Indiana University in Bloomington in training to be WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), the women's branch of the US Naval Reserves. Uncle Frank, already in the Navy, and Mildred McFall, a former teacher at Mother's high school, encouaged this young woman from Atlanta, who'd never travelled farther than Florida, to take a big step and join the newly-created WAVES (est. July 21, 1942). It meant training far from home and being away from her very close family for Christmas.

At our annual Bully Bartows family gathering yesterday, sister Cindy pulled out a letter, dated December 10, 1942, that she'd found in some of Mother's belongings. It was from the Office of Naval Procurement, Healey Building, Atlanta, Georgia, and addressed to Catherine Juanita Bartow, AS, USNR, at the Naval Training School.  Her former teacher McFall, now a lieutenant in the Naval Reserves, was the author writing to buck up her girls during what she knew must be a difficult Christmastime for them. 

"During this December 7 week I have been thinking of you girls and what you are going through in order to show your loyalty in your own way and to the full extent of your ability. I know that the boys of December 7 would be proud of you." 

The letter contained updates on some changes (e.g., wives of enlisted men could now join) and emphasized how proud Lieutenant McFall was of her "girls."

"I must tell you that that about the only time I get to go to the movies is when someone tells me my girls are marching in the newsreels. My eyes have gone down to about 2/20 trying to recognize you. The people around me s-s-sh me when I yell out "That's the cute girl from North Carolina," or "That's Mary from South Carolina," or "The one on the end is from Macon," or "I remember seeing that girl in Jacksonville." It's wonderful and you do look so Navy!"

But the Lieutenant also reminded Mother what the boys were fighting for and how they were counting on the WAVES and WACS. She encouraged them to write to boys they might know who were in active service. She asked that they keep them in mind if they started feeling sorry for themselves. 

"Please, if you begin to feel sorry for yourself now, grit your teeth for the boys who are having to fight all day, kill all day. Think of the boys who will spend Christmas under the sea in a submarine. Thank God we're not being faced with that, and thank God, we can look that boy in the eye without flinching when he comes marching home."

Lt. McFall also encouraged the girls to look beyond the war to a brighter Christmas which would surely come.

"Speaking of Christmas, let me say, some of these days you will be hanging a tree for your wee tots and you may stop on such a Christmas Eve to say a prayer of gratitude for having had a part in keeping this country a land free for them. Yes, Santa Claus will come again!"

Of course, Mother met sailor Daddy when she was stationed at the NAS in Jacksonville, and within five years, Mother did, indeed, have two little boy tots, and after a few more years added a couple of little girl tots.  But I'm sure she never forgot that Christmas of 1942 and how much was at stake.

What a wonderful gift for us to treasure this Christmas of 2019. Merry Christmas to all!