Story of the WAVES

Two WAVES cleaning an SNJ training plane at NAS Jacksonville during World War II.

The Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service program was born in July 1942, seven months after the United States entered World War II. Needing to staff the country’s onshore bases as more and more men were called away to sea duty, the U.S. Navy followed the lead of various homefront industries and opened its doors to women. The WAVES had a status in the Navy comparable to male personnel, and performed a wide array of duties including clerical work, codebreaking, healthcare, pilot training and working on airplanes. By the end of the war, more than 86,000 women had served in the WAVES.

One of the largest Naval Air Stations in the world, NAS Jacksonville was a significant destination for WAVES. Many served as administrators and clerks, while others repaired and overhauled planes as metalsmiths and aviation machinist’s mates. Others trained air crews, a job that required intensive training of its own. In all positions, the WAVES were instrumental to the functioning of the base and to the Allied war effort in general.

The WAVES blazed a trail for later women in the U.S. armed forces. The success of the WAVES and other female units inspired Congress in 1948 to pass the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, enabling women to serve in all military branches. Locally, the WAVES helped establish Jacksonville’s position as a major Navy city. The photographs below from the National Archives depict the WAVES at work in several areas at NAS Jacksonville, and serve as a record of the trailblazing spirit of the WAVES.

Photos: WAVES in action at NAS Jacksonville

One of the largest naval air bases, NAS Jacksonville was a key destination for WAVES serving as aviation metalsmiths and aviation machinist’s mates. The predecessors to modern aviation structural mechanics, aviation metalsmiths generally worked on a plane’s structure while aviation machinist’s mates worked on engines and propellers. Both jobs were in high demand at NAS Jacksonville and other major bases. This photo shows the first WAVES class to graduate from the Naval Air Technical Training Center’s Aviation Metalsmith School in Norman, Oklahoma, July 30, 1943.

Aviation machinist’s mate Violet Falkum kisses sailor Matti Melidoni goodbye as she departs Norman, Oklahoma after graduating from the Technical Training Center. Falkum went on to serve at NAS Jacksonville and appears in several other images in the National Archives. The photo’s caption reads, “Last minute clutches and hurried good-bye kisses were in evidence everywhere for the Waves that were lucky enough to have their boy-friends at the station to see them off.”

Aviation machinist’s mates Mary Arnold, Violet Falkum and Bernice Stansbury adjust the intake on an SNJ training plane on October 27, 1943. All graduated from the Aviation Machinist’s Mate School at the Technical Training Center in Norman.

Bernice Sansburg and Violet Falkum work on the SNJ’s Pratt & Whitney R-1340 radial engine.

Violet Falkum turning over the SNJ’s engine.

Another image of Violet Falkum.

Aviation metalsmiths and aviation machinist’s mates working on an SBD Dauntless scout bomber at NAS Jacksonville’s Assembly and Repair Department on July 24, 1943. The WAVES working on the wing are Annia Marie Garman and Frances O. Culpepper; working on the fuselage are Audrey Anderson, Jane Carlisle, Betty Jo Visson, Mary Jane Boring and Clara R. Bumgarner.

WAVES aviation machinist’s mates Inez Waits, Lucille H. Henderson, Mary Anne Gasser, Helen Adams and Leona Curry servicing an SNJ at NAS Jacksonville around July 24, 1943.

WAVES aviation metalsmith Barbara Stroud drilling and riveting a plane’s airframe in the NAS Jacksonville Assembly and Repair Department on July 24, 1943.

*Aviation metalsmiths Claire Bickham and Susie Alvis riveting a plane in the NAS Jacksonville Assembly and Repair Department on July 24, 1943 *

Aviation machinist’s mate John Anderson supervises WAVES AMMs Inez Waits and Lucille H. Henderson at NAS Jacksonville on July 24, 1943.

Aviation machinist’s mates Bernice Sanbury and Mary Arnold remove an engine access panel on an SNJ on November 4, 1943.

Mary Arnold jumps down from the SNJ’s fuselage after performing maintenance.

In the NAS Jacksonville Overhaul and Repair hanger (O&R Building), WAVE Ann Garman speaks with a guard with planes in the background.

Next page: More photos of the WAVES in action at NAS Jacksonville