Veteran Of The Week: WAVE World War II Veteran, Mrs. Beverly Newak.
Beverly Newak wasn’t picky. When she finished boot camp at the end of 1943, the Navy gave her three job choices. “Just put me where you need me,” she told them. Which is how a 20-year-old home-economics student from Fargo, N.D., wound up in Florida teaching bomber crews how to shoot machine guns.
World War II changed America in countless ways, and this was one of them. A nation that had encouraged women to think of themselves mainly as wives and mothers suddenly needed them to be something else. Dozens of something elses.
“It’s a Woman’s War Too!” the recruiting posters said.
Answering the call by the hundreds of thousands, they worked as nurses on hospital trains in Europe. They broke enemy code in top-secret offices in Washington, D.C. They built airplanes in San Diego.
Historians look back on that period now and see a great awakening, a broadening of female horizons that’s ongoing — not just in the military, which this year began easing restrictions on women in ground-combat jobs, but everywhere.
“Many times I’ve thought, my goodness, what are all these feminists complaining about?” Newak said. “We were doing things that weren’t very feminine a long time before they started complaining.”
Newak is 91 now and lives in La Mesa. She still has her uniforms from the war, still has her gunnery-school instruction manual. She still remembers how on the day her Navy class graduated, somebody with a sense of humor put this sign in front of the group: “College of Mortuary Science.”
Funny, but kind of true, too. Death was their business. Teach someone how to shoot a machine gun effectively from inside the turret of a B-17 and they have a better chance of making it home. Teach them to recognize the silhouette of enemy aircraft and they’re less likely in the heat of combat to shoot down one of their own.
If it bothered the men to be taught by women, they never said so out loud to Newak. There was some teasing — they called the instructors “nags” (short for naval aviation gunner school) — but “everybody understood how serious this was,” she said.
Photo Caption: Beverly Newak who was a WAVE (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) in the Navy during World War II holds a copy of the Detroit News announcing the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan. The paper was collected by her husband, Robert, who was also in the Navy during the war.
On behalf of a grateful nation, we salute Mrs. Newak for your dedication and service to our nation.
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Remember Those Who Served
The Greatest Generations Foundation