FLORENCE RUDOLPH KALAMAKIS
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I was born in the small eastern Washington town of LaCrosse on September 4, 1922. After graduating from High School in Lacrosse, I went to Portland, OR and enrolled at a beauty school, planning to be a cosmetologist. After working at the trade all of 3 or 4 months, I decided this wasnít for me. I tried a few other jobs, clerking in a 5 & 10 cent store, Montgomery Ward mail-order and finally at a soda fountain.
When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, I moved back to Spokane, WA and found employment at the Spokane Air Depot. One day I picked up the newspaper and saw an article about the WAVES and the recruitment of women to serve in the Navy. There was to be a recruitment drive at the Davenport Hotel. The idea appealed to me, so I made an appointment to be interviewed. I was only 20 years old and had to get permission from my parents. The Lt. called my dad and talked to him and asked my dad to send a permission letter to her. This was in November of 1942. In due time the permission was obtained and I was sworn in. Now all I had to do was wait until ORDERS were received. Believe me, I spent many days and hours worrying and wondering if I was doing the right thing.
In January I received my orders and all pertinent information. I was supposed to take the troop train to Hunter College in New York City. My gosh, me, a small town gal in NYC. Boy, was I one scared "kid. When the day arrived to leave Spokane it was on a troop train with three cars for potential WAVES. These women came from Oregon, Washington and states we went through in the northern tier. One OLDER WAVE who had been a teacher, took me under her wing and we have remained friends to this day. Eventually we arrived in New York.
My first impression of the Big Apple was it was a dirty, dreary place. No big sky, just big buildings. Boot camp was a moving experience. Shots, drills, marching in the cold snowy weather, IQ tests, movies on protocol, etc. You know the routine. After six weeks of misery (we thought at the time) a contingent of us went to Storekeeper school in Boston.
This was another experience. The Navy had taken over a hotel in downtown for our barracks and a secretarial school for our storekeeper school. We had to march about ten blocks from the barracks to school and back twice a day. The people of Boston soon became used to seeing us marching along so proudly. We had our weekends free to see the historical sights, and there are many. The school was three months duration. One fond memory attached to Boston was another WAVE and I were assigned flag duty. Our responsibility was to raise the flag every morning at 8:00 a.m. One morning the class left for school before we raised the flag, we didnít see them marching off, so after our detail was completed, we went out to the side of the building where we mustered. We were standing at our places - at ease - waiting and waiting. Finally, one of the officers came out and asked why we were there. After explanations were made, she gave us a "written excuse" so we could go to school on our own. After all, we were only in our 20's.
After completing storekeeper school we impatiently waited for orders to our duty stations. I think there were a number of "west coasters" who put in for duty anywhere on the West Coast. We donít always get what we want. The closest to the West Coast was orders to Clinton, OK. Just what the doctor ordered. We were a bunch of heartsick WAVES. Coming back to the barracks from lunch one day, a notice had been posted on the bulletin board for a number of us to report to the recreation room. My name was on the list. New orders had come in for 15 girls to go to Western Sea Frontier in San Francisco. This was a plum assignment as it was not attached to any Naval District and we had our own chain of command. The Navy had taken over the Womenís Club in downtown San Francisco for WAVES. When it filled up with 12th Naval District Personnel, they allowed Western Sea Frontier WAVES to move out in apartments on subsistence. A civilian girl friend was waiting for orders to go into the Marine Corp. She asked if I would like to move in with her mother, taking her place, and if she was lucky enough to be assigned to San Francisco, I would be her roommate. This all happened and we became surrogate sisters. Her mother was my mother away from home. I met and made friends with many people in the Bay area.
When notice was received that the Navy was sending WAVES to Hawaii -- the first out of country (Hawaii was a territory at that time) assignment, I decided that was a new challenge for me. My family supported me in my decision. I requested Hawaii duty and did my overseas training at Tadcen Shoemaker in California. More shots, physicals, etc. Finally the big day arrived and we boarded the SS Lurline (a luxury ship used by the Navy to transport troops). Of course they took out all the luxury and made a troop ship out of it. There were lots of seasick guys and gals aboard, blackouts at night and abandon ship drills during the day. After five days we arrived in Honolulu to a reception to end all receptions. Music, hula girls, leis, speeches, etc., as we were the first contingent of WAVES to arrive on the island. We were bussed to the Wave Barracks about ten miles out of Honolulu, near the Navy Yards.
Our camp was Quonset huts built by the Navy Sea Bees. The Marine transit camp was on one side and Navy Hospital #128 on the other. We were bussed to our jobs at the Naval Supply Depot and the Submarine Base each day. We had everything we needed on our base. A large recreation center where we could entertain guests (soldiers, sailors and marines). We had shows put on by USO big name dance bands and athletic events. We could invite fellows five nights a week but the other two were for the girls and was strictly casual. On those nights only, the beer garden was open for the WAVES. My time in Hawaii was a fun time even with the war raging in the Pacific. All of our time there was not frivolous. Many of us volunteered at Aiea Naval Hospital during our free time. We saw many battered ships come into port for repair and supplies, and after big naval battles there were always ships coming in bringing casualties. So it was not all a fun time.
We were only allowed one day off a week and curfew was 6 p.m. every night with lights out at 10 p.m. Later in the tour we could have one late night pass a week, till 10 p.m. Later still we could have an overnight pass if we had a local place to visit. I worked with a local female lady and she and her husband had me come and stay at their house on the nights I had an overnight. I really felt fortunate to have made so many friends while I was in service. VJ Day arrived and most of us were anxious to get back stateside. Because of the "point" system, I was in the first group returning. We docked in San Francisco and a lot of the friends I had made were there to greet me. From the dock we were sent to Balboa for separation from duty. The date -- October 1945.
The best friend of all was Peter, the marine I met in Hawaii, and married. We were two months short of 50 years when he passed away. I have three wonderful children and six grandchildren. I feel my life has been blessed.
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