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The Floyd Bennett Field Task Force

WAVES Stories
Remembrances of Navy WAVES of Floyd Bennett Field

During World War II, women proudly served their country alongside the men at Floyd Bennett Field, NAS New York. The following stories are the memories of the military service careers of three Navy WAVES during what they consider, even today, to be "this useful and exciting time in their lives."

- Fran (Boggs) Metcalf
- Amy May (Foster) Feluk
- Josephine (Carmerlengo) Tanner

Memories of Fran (Boggs) Metcalf

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On December 7, 1941, the entire United States of America was shocked, frightened and angry that the Japanese would dare to attack our country. This horrible tragedy soon emanated into sensational, nationwide patriotism.

I was 17 at the time, attending high school in the small town of West Springfield, Pennsylvania. Most of the young men in our class were either drafted or chose to enlist, some before graduating.

I remember the rationing of sugar, nylons, tires, gasoline, meat, etc. This was managed through a stamp allocation with some trading stamps, and some abusing the system through the black market.

My brother Jim was in the Navy, stationed at a Navy air base at that time, and wrote interesting letters about how much he enjoyed being an aviation mechanic. He was very convincing and I decided right then that I was going to join the Navy and follow in his footsteps.

Upon graduating, I moved to Cleveland, Ohio -- excited as well as nervous, as I had never even visited a big city before. I immediately applied for a job at Fisher Body Division of General Motors Company, becoming a "Rosie the Riveter". The training consisted of two weeks at Fenn College, learning how to use a drill, a ratchet wrench and a rivet gun. We were hired to work at the Coit Road plant in East Cleveland after completing our training.

We were required to not tell anyone about what we were working on. Secrecy was their utmost stringent requirement. I worked on the air duct assembly; but was not aware of what other areas of the plant were working on. I was aware that it was an airplane, but not the significance it would play in history as the B-29. I remember how strict the inspectors were, always looking over your shoulder to see that things were done to their specifications.

You were not allowed to take days off work without a "paper" from your doctor. If you played hooky from work, you were given three more days off and chastised for impeding the war effort. I found this out when a friend and I decided to go downtown to a show at the 7:00 p.m. lunch break after cashing our checks at Donovan's, the comer bar and grill. We felt so ashamed that we never missed work again.

Although we worked six days a week, ten hours a day, I couldn't believe I received so much pay for doing a job that I liked so much. The pay was excellent compared to other types of employment; but it was stressful on a young person.

Seemingly, your life was one of merely sleeping, eating and working. Although there were times when we would ride the streetcar downtown late at night, attending performances at the Palace Theater, where many of the big-name bands and singers appeared. I remember standing in line at the stage door to get their autographs.

Work was very satisfying in thinking we were doing something so important; and the workers were all pleasant and actually enjoyable to work with. I especially remember one lady, Zera, whom we all loved dearly. She often brought extra fried chicken, cooked in olive oil, to share with us in our work area. She was blessed with an excellent voice and sang blues songs through an elbow assembly on which she was working.

After working at the defense plant for approximately a year, I remembered what my motivation in life was--to join the Navy. On my 20th birthday, since this was the age requirement, I took a streetcar downtown and was sworn in as a Navy WAVE, an acronym for Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.

I then returned to work and requested a leave of absence, which the company agreed to. They informed me that the law required them to give me a job upon discharge from the service.

It was July 21, 1944 when I was sworn in on a delayed entry. I left Cleveland with many other recruits in September by boarding a sleeper car headed for Grand Central Station in New York City. We arrived the next morning and were bused to Hunter College for boot training.

On the first day we marched endlessly, some in high heels and the civilian clothing, which was not comfortable for marching. The next morning almost everyone was suffering from blisters on their heels; some in tears and wondering: "What did I ever get myself into?" However, I was determined to accept whatever it took to pursue this new adventure, which I had looked forward to for the last several years. We were given shots the next day, and I remember that I was the only one out of the four women in our room who did not get ill from the shots. Of course, this meant that I was responsible for keeping our room in ship-shape condition. Luckily they all recovered the next day, just in time to pack up our civilian clothing and ship them home. Earlier that day we were issued uniforms, which were very attractive -styled by Mainbouche, a prestigious French designer.

We soon realized that the training was really strict, with discipline like most of us had never experienced. In the mornings when the bell would ring, we hit the floor running. We were required to muster on the first floor in five minutes, with our raincoats over our pajamas. Then hurriedly returning upstairs for a shower and dressing neatly, and on to a quick breakfast, followed by classes daily on Naval Orientation. This included everything there was to know about the Navy, with marching every day to all the famous marching music.

Our rooms had to be maintained in spotless condition. Neatness requirements of clothing in our closets were extreme. All coats, jackets and blouses had to be completely buttoned on hangers. Boots had to be buckled, and shoes had to be laced and tied with all spaced evenly with toes pointing forward. Underwear had to be folded with all folds facing out and piled neatly. Cots had to be made perfect without a wrinkle, and no dust was allowed.

While we were in training, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was driven through the Hunter College Armory in his touring car with the top down, reviewed us. We were very upset when reading the New York papers the next day that said we WAVES had broken ranks to look at the President. This was untrue, as we knew this was not permissible!

After training, I spent two weeks at Hunter College as an SP (Shore Patrol). I had requested training for becoming an airplane mechanic, and they had to find an opening for an on-the-job training slot.

While on duty as an SP, I loved it, standing at the gate all day, saluting officers and carrying my billy club. However, one morning I awakened late, dressed hurriedly and ran to work, attempting to take a shortcut by jumping over this foot-high wire encircling the lawn. I caught my toe and landed in a mud puddle. Covered with mud, I explained to my boss, an older SP on the gate, what had happened. He was not sympathetic to my plight and insisted that I remain on duty all day, saluting officers in my extremely embarrassing condition. At the end of the day he congratulated me on how well I had accepted my punishment.

Finally, I arrived at Floyd Bennett Field Naval Air Station. We were quartered in the women's bunkroom, 50 women to each bunkroom, four bunks to a cubicle (two upper, two lower), with clothes closets at the end of the bunks. There were four large bunkrooms and private rooms for those working at night. There were also quite a few women permitted to live off base.

We had a community type shower, no curtains or privacy, with long rows of sinks, toilets and mirrors adjoining the shower room. Down the hall was a laundry room with washers, and dryers that pulled out of the wall. They contained rods to hang your clothing over, then pushed back into the wall until the clothing dried.

We had four hours of desk and security duty every four days, making inspections of the bunkrooms with a flashlight at night for fire safety.

There was practically no dissention, as the women were all congenial. I remember only two incidents in the bunkroom. One person wanted to keep her kitten in the barracks, while others didn't like the idea. The other instance was the time when some of the women wanted the windows open, while only one woman objected. Their differences were settled amicably.

If you went AWOL you were locked in a second story room and placed on a diet of only bread and water for three days. I remember only one instance of this, when a woman was refused a leave-of-absence to go home to marry her fiancÚ whose ship had just returned to the States. She went home and got married without permission. We all felt sorry for her.

Women could be in the WAVES if they were married with no children, but not if they were pregnant, which is not the case today. I remember that one woman was discharged when it was discovered that she was pregnant.

We were not allowed to leave the base in slacks. Full dress uniforms were mandatory. Slacks and jeans were proper dress on the base. I remember my bell-bottom jeans that were so comfortable for working. Shortly after the war ended, the rules were changed drastically for the WAVES. Women were now allowed to leave the base in civilian clothing and could volunteer for duty in Hawaii if you reenlisted for a hitch in the Navy.

I was finally assigned to an airplane crew. Initially, I observed closely what the crew was doing in checking the airplanes that were flown in from Grumman Aircraft located in Bethpage, Long Island. I carried lots of tools, washed props down, changed oil filters, unbuckled cowling and dusted cockpits. I worked on F4Us, F4Fs and PBYs. One of my favorite memories was the day the test pilot from Grumman asked how I would like to take a ride with him to Grumman and back. I was thrilled as he helped me into the Grumman "DUCK". Since it was my first airplane flight ever, he handed me a paper bag, which turned out to be unnecessary.

You could be pulled from your regular duty for KP or cleaning detail. KP (kitchen police) was serving on the chow line for the three daily meals. I will never forget my first day on KP duty when the chief in the mess hall ordered me to put sugar, salt, pepper and cream in this slotted crate and take it across to the dining area and set them on the tables. To my chagrin, the sailors who were lined up for chow began to whistle cadence with every step I took. I put my chin up, and holding the crate down to my side, I swung it back and forth while crossing the hall. I was halfway across the hall when the whistles abruptly changed to loud laughter. I turned to see two chiefs coming toward me with a broom and a mop. Although totally embarrassed, I quickly cleaned up the stream of cream and sugar that I had left behind me.

Another embarrassment for me was on cleaning duty during the winter. I was dressed in shorts and a T -shirt, as it was more comfortable to clean dressed like this in the hot bunkrooms. I stacked up the wastebaskets, three in each arm, opened the back door to empty them in the huge waste receptacle beside the steps, and hitting an icy spot I landed into two and a half feet of snow. Just at that time the "cattle wagon" drove by loaded with sailors yelling and cheering at my plight, while I proceeded to pick up the trash, frozen and in tears. These cattle wagons, our form of transportation, resembled semis with a large opening on one side. These vehicles had no seats -- everyone had to stand. At times they were so crowded that it resembled a load of cattle, that's why they were called cattle wagons.

When we had inspection by visiting Admirals, we had to look perfect with hair off the collar and uniforms in impeccable condition. We were required to stand at attention regardless of weather conditions. I recall one inspection when the air was so foggy it seemed the consistency of pea soup. After the inspection was over, we women were chilled to the bone. On return to the barracks, about ten of us shared a bottle of brandy, which took the chill away. Our friend was keeping it in her locker for just such an occasion.

I never accomplished my intention of becoming an airplane mechanic, as after my tour of duty in the mess hall and of a month of barracks duty, Lt. (JG) Virginia Baldwin decided that she liked the good job that I had done in cleaning her office, so she requested another month of cleaning detail for me. While many of the women were adept in their jobs as mechanics, that wasn't in my future. One morning a WAVE officer walked through the ACU Outfights office and was incensed at the language that she heard. She told them to get a woman in that office immediately. So, that is how I finally got my job in the office of ACU Outflights, logging in airplanes flown in from Grumman Aircraft, and then logging them out, after they were checked by the plane crews, to go aboard aircraft carriers going out to sea. I was the only woman in the office and ignored the language. There were a few intentional foul words spoken and a few slips of the tongue, but I knew my approach was the right one when they respected me enough to clean up their act.

I recall how I kept aspirin in my desk drawer at ACU Outflights for the young sailors, many younger than myself, who would arrive for duty with terrible hangovers. I knew it was possible they could be transferred onto ships going out to sea. Some of them were only 17 and I was 20, so they seemed like little boys to me.

At work we were always called by our last name only. But in jest my nickname was "Salty", as I would often perch my sailor hat square on my forehead.

We had Marines and Coast Guard (males) on Floyd Bennett Field. The Marines were stationed at the gates and the Coast Guards were on the far end of the field, working with helicopters and rescue boats. There were two Coast Guard members who were on the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team. I remember one of them dated one of our WAVES that lived in our barracks. We went to several of the Dodgers' games.

We were allowed to date, which most of those of us who were single did. We could invite our dates into our community living room until 9:00 p.m. We had super protection by civilian police officers, which gave us a sense of security.

They had Catholic and Protestant Church services on Sunday. My friend, Cecile Calabretti, and I would sit through both services together at times. We had a softball team and played against the WACs (Women Army Corps), who spiked us in the legs.

We were frequently given tickets to events. I remember how thrilled we were in attending the Aviator's Ball at the Astor Hotel. It was fantastic. I also remember singing songs at Christmas season around the beautifully decorated tree at Rockefeller Center and watching the ice-skating while having lunch.

I remember when the Brooklyn Transportation went out on strike. In order to go into the city we had to take rides with perfect strangers, but never did this alone. We usually went with two or more persons.

I was discharged on April 6, 1946. When inquiring about returning to my job with Fisher Body, I was told that if I insisted they would be required by law to give me a job, but if I took it I would be taking a job away from a man with a wife and children. So, I told him to keep the job, as the economy was on a downslide and many men were laid off.

My experience as a Rosie the Riveter and as a Navy WAVE were very exciting and satisfying in the view that I had made a small contribution in helping to win World War II.

I still meet with my bunkmate, Amy Foster Feluk, several times a year continuing our 60-year friendship in 2004. My husband, Dick, and I attend both his Navy Reunion, the USS Nashville, which took General Douglas MacArthur back to the Philippines; and my Navy Reunion, the NAS New York, NY. We also attend WAVES NATIONAL, an organization formed for women veterans to remind the public that women also served.

There were over 300 women serving on Floyd Bennett Field during World War II. They worked in many job categories such as: a yeoman in the Administrative Dept. & Personnel Dept., other jobs were in the Communications Dept., the Post Office, Education, Aviation Mechanic in ACU, in Assembly & Repair, in Overseas Air Cargo Terminal, the Operations Dept., the Training Dept., in Ships Service, in Supply Dept., in Disbursing Dept., in Security Dept., in First Lieutenant Dept., in Welfare and Athletic Dept. and the Medical Dept.

Written by Fran (Boggs) Metcalf, March 22, 2004

Memories of Amy May (Foster) Feluk

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Before going into the service I worked in a small defense plant, Congress Die Casting, making "fins" for bombs. I made $54.00 a week, the same amount I ended up making for a month in the Navy.

I went into the Navy in September 1944. Boot Camp was at Hunter College in the Bronx, New York. After basic training, I was held over for eight weeks because the Navy at first did not know where to place me. Finally, I was assigned to Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, New York. I went from the Bronx, Hunter College to Flatbush by the subway, by myself. They gave me instructions on how to travel. A "cattle car" met me at the Flatbush Avenue subway station and took me to Floyd Bennett Field. The cattle cars were semis with enclosed trailers. When I arrived at the front gate, they checked me in, and sent me to the WAVES barracks.

WAVES were on duty on a four-day duty schedule. One weekend we were off on Saturday, one weekend we were off on Sunday, one weekend we were off on Saturday and Sunday, and one weekend we were on duty all weekend.

Our barracks or bunkroom had cubicles with four bunk beds (two up, two down) and closets. When we moved in, the WAVE assigned above me was a shorter, five-foot person and could hardly reach the top bunk very well, so we asked personnel if we could switch bunks because I was five-foot nine inches tall. It worked out very well.

I was next to the tallest WAVE in our squadron. In training I was assigned to practice at the back of the squad so I would learn to take smaller steps.

On the base WAVES had to go to mess, church or the PX (post exchange) by cattle car. Standing room only! Our barracks were close to the front gate and next to the fire station and CO's clubroom. Most of the other barracks were near the mess hall and PX. The hangers were on the opposite side of the base. I worked in Hanger A. I was a trainee Apprentice Aviation Machinist Mate. The unit was A.C.U. or Aircraft Commissioning Unit.

The whole base had entertainment at times. We would go to the auditorium. The U.S.O. was part of the entertainment. One time Talullah Bankhead, a famous actress, put on a skit for all. She was on her way overseas to entertain the troops.

On weekend pass or anytime we were free, the WAVES normally headed for Manhattan. WAVES would leave the base in cattle cars and go into Flatbush to take the subway into Manhattan. We would go to the U.S.O. first. It was located on Times Square. The U.S.O. would have free tickets or passes for musicals, movies, roller skating, dance clubs like the Copacabana and Toots Shor's, and to Radio City Music Hall.. If we stayed in Flatbush, WAVES would go to the Blue Mirror, which had dancing and drinks, or we would go to a restaurant to have some "good" food like hamburgers, hot dogs and food we didn't get on the base. Sometimes we went to Coney Island in Brooklyn.

One incident stays with me to this day. I was getting an F4F Corsair airplane ready for a test flight when a Lt. (JG) who was assigned to my plane could not wait for me to finish my checkup. He took the plane up without a clearance. He was in a hurry because all his buddies were already in the air. I was waiting for the oil truck to add oil to my plane. The Lt. (JG) could not stay up in the air and could not finish his checkup. The F4F came back covered with oil very soon after take off. I had a very fine time cleaning all the oil off the plane!

One thing I learned was to watch out for props when they were turning. I saw one sailor lose the top of his head when he walked into the propeller.

While being on the basketball team I sprained both knees while guarding. The game was between Christmas and New Year 1945 in Rhode Island. When I came back I was put on KP in our bunkroom. I was there for two months, as I could not work on the airplanes at the time.

I left the Navy on the point system. I had been in the Navy for 19 months and was discharged in March 1946.

Written by Amy May (Foster) Feluk, March 22, 2004

Memories of Josephine C. Tanner

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My personal experiences at Boot Camp U. S. Naval Base, Iowa State Teachers College, Cedar Falls, Iowa, at Naval Air Technical Training Center, Norman, Oklahoma and at Floyd Bennett Field, U. S. Naval Air Station, Brooklyn, New York.

Fresh from surviving the Cocoanut Grove fire in Boston, Massachusetts on Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend in November 1942, and under U. S. Navy orders, I arrived at Iowa State Teachers College (ISTC) in Cedar Falls, Iowa on December 15, 1942 for four weeks of basic training as a WAVE. Entering a world where no woman had been before, I was determined, in spite of the trauma I was still experiencing, to serve as well and as importantly as a man.

We were given a copy of the Navy's Bluejacket Manual as part of our indoctrination. This manual contained information of a specialized and technical nature, in addition to information which would tend to make an "able seaman and a thorough man-o-war's man". Day by day we learned how to live, work and behave according to the rules and regulations listed therein. We learned how to make a bed -Navy style - how to clean "heads". We learned Navy nomenclature, some of which was pretty salty. We learned to distinguish our left foot from our right. We learned how to march -- quickstep, about face, running in place and other moves -- but most importantly a proper hand salute.

We learned the difference between the order of rank and the difference between non-coms and officers. We learned how to accept and get along with all kinds of people. Most of all, we learned Navy discipline.

We were up and out at 4:00 a.m., eating a full course breakfast of meat and potatoes, we marched, we drilled, we exercised (same as the men) climbing ropes, jumping obstacle courses. Once it became apparent that women are different in physical strength, stature and endurance, the exercises were modified to accommodate the physique of a women.

During this period we were being evaluated as to abilities, stability and physical stamina, in preparation of where we could best serve. We were subjected to I.Q. tests, dexterity test and aptitude tests.

I was one of the very first group of women to enter the Women's Reserve (WAVES) of the U. S. Navy. We were the first group to receive our basic training at ISTC. After a number of groups completed their basic training at ISTC, the U. S. Navy transferred their "boot camp" to Hunter College in New York. But I take pride along with my ISTC boot camp buddies that we broke ground for all women to follow.

Upon completion of my basic training, I was assigned to the Naval Air Technical Training Center (NATTC) in Norman, Oklahoma to become an Aviation Machinist Mate (AMM). To our chagrin, we were quartered in men's barracks with urinals, community showers, and door less toilets. One naive seaman took one look and exclaimed, "How considerate they were to provide special shampoo facilities for us girls!" But we rose to the challenge and before long we were very comfortable with our housing and facilities. For the next 21 weeks we were faced with other, more important, challenges. We had to learn the ins and outs of various airplanes, how they functioned, the critical areas, how to identify problems and correct them. We were taught how to check out the vital parts of the plane -- the engines, fuel pumps, tire pressure. We learned tools and how to use them. For many of us it was a whole new world, and one that I came to love.

The learning process got pretty heavy at times and moments of levity were welcomed. A typical moment occurred when a "smart" seaman answered the question, "How do you know when a cylinder is missing?" with "Well, if you look for it and it's not there, it's missing!"

Another fun happening occurred when this same seaman and I were sitting in separate cockpits of side-by-side fighter planes checking out the equipment. She playfully attempted to contact me by picking up a funnel-ended hose and yelling, "Calling plane No.12345, come in please". Needless to say, she was horrified when she was told the function of that hose and spent the rest of her free time brushing her teeth and rinsing her mouth.

Nevertheless, when we completed our training we were well equipped to handle the responsibilities awaiting those of us who were assigned to the U. S. Naval Station, Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, New York. I left NATTC with a rating of Aviation Machinist Mate, 3rd Class (AMMIII).

At Floyd Bennett I was assigned to the Aircraft Commissioning Unit (ACU). This unit handled the receipt, equipping and checking naval aircraft arriving from the Grumman and other eastern factories. After going through the system and then signed off by the plane captains' of which I was one -- the aircraft would be ferried to the West Coast for entry into the war theatre. By the end of the war we had safely delivered 40,000 plus planes.

One of the perks of being a plane captain was to receive "flight skins" enabling me to fly with a pilot in one of the serviced aircraft at given times. During my service at Floyd Bennett I was transferred from ACU to Assembly & Repair (A&R). This department was responsible for having every aircraft properly assembled and kept in satisfactory flying condition, as well as overhauling engines on a regular basis. It was in this department that I was plane captain to a crew of three men. My signature was on the paper that released the serviced aircraft for ferrying to the West Coast.

My recollections of the years I spent as a WAVE are happy ones. While at Cedar Falls, the local community treated us with respect and cordiality. The townspeople were kind and understanding, especially because many of us were away from home at Christmas 1942 for the first time. Some of us were invited to enjoy their hospitality that Christmas. To my delight, I was treated to genuine Iowa steak and corn, quite a different menu from the completely Italian Christmas dinner being served at home. The interest and friendliness extended to me that day and during my time in Cedar Falls was truly heart-warming and I'll never forget them.

The basic training I received at Cedar Falls, Iowa along with the specialized training at Norman, Oklahoma helped me to know who I was (and still am), what I was capable of and subsequently, allowed me to live my life knowing that I had, in a small way, made a positive contribution to the World War II effort.

Another important by-product of my military service is friendship. I enjoyed many friends throughout my career, two of which started in Cedar Falls and have been a part of my life ever since. Lasting friendships are rare and I'm very fortunate to still have one in my life today -- 62 years later. For all that, I shall always be grateful to the U. S. Navy.

On January 4, 1946 I was honorably discharged from the Navy with the rating of Aviation Machinist Mate, 2d Class.

Written by Josephine C. Tanner, March 22, 2004

Click here for Lesson Plan: "Floyd Bennett Field: Naval Aviation's Home in Brooklyn"

www.floydbennett.org