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Annabelle Nabors Buchanan
Chapter 6
: My Navy Life


I gave my notice at the office, and they gave a nice farewell party. They gave me a bathrobe as a good-bye gift.

I boxed all my belongings, and took them to Pennsylvania. The only piece of clothing I kept was the fur coat that meant so much to me.

I boarded the train from Washington to New York City to Grand Central Station. Once there, I was sworn in on the Mezzanine along with about 200 other girls. From there we were sent to Hunter College located in New York City.

It was very cold and snow covered the ground. The day started at 6:00 a.m. We had several classed to attend. We were assigned a bunkmate. Mine was a girl by the name of Agatha Bogden. She was very nice, and a very exact person.

We all marched to and from each class, and then to the Galley where meals were served. We could take all the food we wanted, but the rule was strict that we had to eat all we took. One day I made the mistake of taking meat which I thought to be steak, only to find out it was liver. I tried to dump it, but was told there could be no waste.

We always sang during the marches. One day before uniforms had been issued, I was marching, and one of the Petty Officers told me to report to her after we were dismissed. Fear that I had done something wrong took hold of me. However, I did report as requested. When I entered, she told me to be at ease that there was nothing wrong. She said "You have a very good rhythm, and I want you to be Right Guide for your platoon." My first question was, "what does that mean?" She explained that I would walk in front alone, and carry the flag. I agreed and from then on, that was my position. There were three tall girls directly behind me, so I really had to step out or have my heels stepped on. I felt so proud to be given that honor.

After we received uniforms, it was really inspiring. About the third weekend, we were given liberty in New York City. My main goal was to have my uniform tailored to fit. Along with a few others, we went everywhere. One of the high lights was taking a ferry to Statton Island, and up into the Statue of Liberty. During the war, we were not permitted to go into the crown, but even so, we could see the whole harbor.

Another place that impressed me was the St. Patrick's Cathedral. The tomb of Woodrow Wilson was located down in the catacombs of the cathedral.

We were allowed to stay in the city for one evening, and several of us attended a dance for foreign service men. It was really fun and I danced with several from England, France and other countries.

January was bitter cold and winds came off the Hudson River. We had to take turns and stand watch through the night. Sometimes girls were ordered to stand watch on the grounds. One such time, a lovely Wave had her feet frozen and one of her feet had to be amputated. I was one of the lucky ones to get duty inside.

Weekly inspections of barracks was always stressful. A Petty Officer would inspect our quarters. She took her white gloves and ran her finger over tops of doorways, and bunks had to be made exactly by the book. She would see if a quarter bounced off the bedspread. Agatha was a very neat person, so we never had any problem. Some of the girls had a hard time adjusting. I remember one girl left the iron on during breakfast, and almost burned the place down.

It was a new experience for me to live with so many girls, after being like an only child all those early years.

Another high point of Boot Camp was when we were told that Admiral Whitehead was coming aboard the station. We practiced, and I was in the group piping him aboard, especially since I carried the flag. I loved all the pomp and ceremony. I felt very proud in my uniform and white gloves. It was a day to remember.

The six weeks went by quickly. I had requested to be a Medic. However, the Navy had other ideas. They felt that my office experience should not be wasted. Therefore, I was given orders to report to Yeomen School in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

George and I had corresponded regular, but the letters were becoming farther apart. This home port was San Francisco. He called me his little ripple, and mentioned that I should request the West Coast for duty.

After finishing Boot Camp, we were given leave for two weeks. I went to Pennsylvania for that period and stayed with Nanny, and then Grandma Nabors.

While I was there, Uncle Althea came to the house. He had joined the Navy and was a Lieutenant. It was wonderful to see him and for both of us to be in the same branch of the service. He just beamed when he saw me.

One day before I left, Grandma told me there was someone in the hospital she wanted me to see, my father. My reply was "of course." For her I would do it. Lottie and I went together. I was not prepared for the shock. He was in a ward with many other men. He was just a shell of a man. He was very surprised to see me and seemed so glad. He remarked about my uniform. He pulled back the covers, and showed his legs. They were like broomsticks. All the anger and hatred I had stored up for him seemed to melt away. I could feel only pity for this man. Lottie and I went out and brought back ice cream for him. He was so grateful. He remarked that he had heard I was engaged. His last words to me were “Annabelle, marry a man who will be good to you.” We kissed him good-bye and left. Lottie told me he was dying.

We rode the subway back to the base for a nickel. We had to jump on very quickly, or be left behind. I loved every minute of the exciting city.

Shortly after that visit I boarded a train for Cedar Falls. While I was on the train, I received a telegram that my father had died. He died as he lived, a victim of drugs.

I have never forgotten that last visit, and as the years have gone by, I realized how much I missed having a father. Of course, I had father figures in Sam Walls, Uncle Althea, and Uncle Harry. There were no memories of a father holding me, or telling me stories.

The journey to Cedar Falls was brief. By this time, I had gained confidence and there were no fears for a new experience.

We had nice quarters in Yeoman school. It proved to be very stressful because they tried to get two years of training into six weeks.

A few of the girls had nervous breakdowns. Recreation was very limited. One of the girls in our dorm was a redhead from Seattle, Washington. We called her Rusty. She took liberty without permission and of course was caught sneaking back into the barracks. She was on restriction constantly. Finally, a political friend of her father obtained her release from the Navy.

We did have gym classes that were beneficial. All the girls enjoyed the chance to get active after sitting in classes. The officer in charge had drums beaten and we were told to do just what the music dictated to our feelings. I recall the tall girls leaping in the air and to me they were like gazelles gracefully leaping about.

On one occasion, we were told to disrobe and enter a small booth. A photographer somewhere outside the booth took pictures of us at different angles. We all questioned the reasoning in this, but later found they were not developed. We were shown negatives the next day. They were used to show us what our posture was like. The gym instructor was very forceful with those who slumped.

We also had swimming classes. I had swam in a creek during childhood, but somehow had developed a fear of water. The best they could do, was get me to bob like a cork.

In three weeks, I had shorthand up to a rate of 60 words per minute. Even so, I itched for active duty. Once again, I requested West Coast duty.

My request for duty was granted and I received orders. However, my wish for the West Coast was denied. They read for me to report to a Navy Proving Ground in Dahlgren, Virginia. None of us knew where that was.

I wrote the disappointing news to George. He was at that time in very active duty fighting the Japanese in the Pacific.

I soon found out Dahlgren was located about 52 miles from Washington. D. C. So, I was right back near where I started from.

I reported for duty to Lt. Griffin. She was a strict Wave Officer, and a little weasel type person.

The first thing I did was get settled into my new quarters. There was one large barracks. The Waves had one half and the Sailors were in the other half. This was to be my first exposure to the Sailors. I learned they were all curious when new girls came to the base.

My new bunk mate was Doreen Hannah from Massachusetts. I liked her immediately. She was very attractive and also quite reserved. I might add, that I was also reserved at that time.

Lt. Griffin assigned me to be the first Wave in the office of Lt. Walter Jennings and two civilians from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

I was given an old Woodstock typewriter for typing the reports. The men were most congenial and kind. At first, I think they did not know what to do with me. They had never kept files, or had any organizing. It was my job to rummage through piles of paper work and start a filing system. All the work done by the men had to do with wind velocity in experimental testing of guns.

Since there was no rate applicable for my job, they gave me Specialist (X) Third Class Petty Officer.

The offices were about one-fourth mile from the barracks and galley. It was really a small base. There was a movie house, gymnasium and a dance hall. There was a chapel on base and to my pleasure, had an Episcopal Chaplain. I really enjoyed the atmosphere after living in the city. There were also tennis courts, which I spent many hours using to my advantage.

We had to take turns having duty in the office. On one such occasion, a Sunday morning, a tall blond sailor and his girlfriend came bouncing into the office. They had tennis rackets and the Sunday paper. They proceeded to make themselves at home. I felt very strict about rules, so felt most uncomfortable. I finally got the courage to tell them to leave, it was not permitted for them to be there.

Several nights later when I was sleeping, a Wave named Jan Morton came back from liberty. She wakened me to tell me she had been at the USO. She said a sailor had been there and he spent the whole evening talking about me. I rolled over and told her to let it wait until morning.

The next morning, she raved on about this good looking fellow. When we went to breakfast in the galley, she spotted him. It was the same sailor I had confronted in the office, while on duty. She introduced us, and his name was Fred Buchanan. He had a smile from ear to ear and seemed very friendly. Little did I know at that moment what a big part he would play in my life.

In the basement of the barracks there was a large recreation room called the Bomb Shelter. Waves and sailors went there for relaxation. They sold snacks, milk shakes, and also beer. Some of the Waves and sailors went down there just to read and meet friends.

One evening I wandered down to see what was going on. A short while later, Buchanan came in. He asked if I would like to go to the movies. That was the beginning. He waited for me each morning for breakfast, and when I left the office at noon, I could see him way down the road waiting for me to go for lunch in the Galley. The same was true in the evenings. He seemed always to be so carefree and talked 90 miles a minute about the Northwest. He told me all about his family and especially his sisters. I kept telling him I was engaged and it was a real struggle between my loyalty to George and the feeling that I was falling in love with Fred Buchanan. The guilt was so heavy that we would make promises not to see each other. It was like a magnetic force pulling he and I together. The romance grew more and more.

One evening as we were saying good-night, a drunken sailor passed and made some remark. I was shocked to see Buchanan race after him ready to challenge him to a fight. They both exchanged words and decided to meet in the gym the next day with the gloves on. I was very impressed and frightened. Since fighting was forbidden, he was taking a risk. However, by the next day, when they put on the boxing gloves, both had cooled off and it was not much of a fight.

I attended all the dances and the band music was terrific. There were many really good dancers. Buchanan did not dance, but stood on the side lines and watched as I danced with several sailors. Finally, he said, "Will you teach me how to dance?"

One evening after a dance, he and I got into the back of a Navy panel truck to neck. Shortly afterward, an MP flashed a light into the truck. I was scared to death. He and I were both ordered to go before the Captain. Fred seemed so much at ease over the whole thing.

When I went into the Captain's office, I was shaking in my shoes. He was a dignified, white haired gentleman. All he asked was, "Why did I have my shoes off?" I answered “Because my feet hurt, Sir.” He just dismissed me at that and said, "That sounds like a woman."

Another time, he and I walked out the main gate and down the country road. It was pitch black outside since there were no street lamps. Suddenly, we came upon an old car parked in front of a house. Buchanan suggested we get in. I told him we could be shot, but he convinced me it was O.K. I could hear chickens squawking in the pen. Suddenly, a voice came from nowhere, "Who's there?" I was out of the car in a flash and running down the road in high heels so fast. I heard a gunshot behind me. I do not believe I had ever ran so fast in my life or since. I did not stop until I reached the Marines at the gate to the base.

We went to Washington, D.C. with another couple for a weekend. It was great fun going to all the clubs, and then back to the base. By this time, it did not seem possible to walk away and forget Fred Buchanan. I was hopelessly in love.

Finally, we had a long weekend, so I invited him to go to Greensburg and meet my sisters. We were all at Nanny's home. Needless to say, they were surprised to see me with a different fellow.

He was so friendly, and made a big hit with the family. Nanny enjoyed hearing all the things he had to tell about his home. I went to bed early that night. Ruth and Lottie made fudge with him. They had a grand time. The next day, Ruth asked me if I was going to marry him. I told her it was not decided yet. She immediately said, "If you marry him, I'll marry George." Little did we know that would come to pass.

We went back to the base by Greyhound Bus. A short time later a letter came from George. He was getting a leave and wanted me to come home at the same time. I knew it was time for another decision in my life.

Buchanan was beside himself. I had to go and my feelings were very mixed. George and his Uncle Jake met me at the bus station. I stayed with Grandma Nabors and Lottie. Of course, we did go to Greensburg to visit Nanny and Ruth. Ruth was so much more grown up. She made no effort to conceal her admiration for George. I still looked on her as my baby sister, and paid no attention.

When it came time for me to return, I told George of my relationship with Buchanan. I told him it was wise to break the engagement. He refused to believe it and really made it difficult. I returned the ring to him.

When I arrived in Washington, D. C., I called Buchanan told him where I was. He said to stay there, he would meet me in the city.

He arrived very quickly. When I saw him coming towards me from a distance, he was waving a piece of paper. Of course, it was a marriage license. We returned to the base together. Three days later we were married in a small Episcopal Church in LaPlata, Maryland. The name of the church was the Port Tobacco Road Parrish. It had been built in the I700's. It was a very romantic setting.

It was the month of September, my favorite month. I wore my white uniform and he had his white uniform also. Dorreen Hannah and Charles Fisher were Maid of Honor and Best Man. Several others attended from our base.

It had always been a regret that I did not notify Aunt Carrie and Uncle Harry so they could attend. They were both surprised and pleased.

Life at the base did not change. It was difficult now being married and wanting to be together as man and wife. A couple months after the wedding, we learned I was pregnant. Things changed rapidly. I could no longer be a Wave. That part hurt me deeply, because I loved my job and being part of the Navy. The most difficult thing was writing the letter to Lt. Jennings informing him of the situation. I must have written the letter ten times - when he said, "Just make it brief.” He had guessed what I was doing.


Return to Table of Contents - Next: Chapter VII: Back to Civilian Life


Copyright 1984 Annabelle Nabors Buchanan

Republished on Minerd.com with permission.  Reproduction forbidden without written consent of Minerd.com.