Prewar Life to WAVES

WAVES Experience



Elsie Marie "Kitty" Rippin was born in Ellinger, Texas in January 1924. She moved around a lot with her family during her childhood. Her father worked for a while as a farmer before becoming a butcher. She and her siblings could not go to school in the rain because they had to cross three large fields to get to the bus stop. She is the second oldest of seven children. After the attacks on Pearl Harbor [Annotator's Note: The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on 7 December 1941], Rippin moved to San Antonio [Annotator's Note: San Antonio, Texas] to do housework for a doctor and elderly lady. While in San Antonio, Rippin began working for a defense plant at Kelly Field [Annotator's Note: now Kelly Field, Joint Base San Antonio, San Antonio, Texas] assembling gyroscopic instruments used in aircraft. She felt stuck in this job and was determined to join some sort of military service, but not the Army, as she did not like the uniforms. When she turned 20, Rippin joined the Navy [Annotator's Note: Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES); United States Naval Women's Reserve] with the consent of her parents. When she got the call to report for basic training, Rippin was very scared. She boarded a train to Hunter College in the Bronx [Annotator's Note: the Bronx is one of the five boroughs in New York, New York]. This was the first time she was on a train and first time ever leaving the state of Texas. She met many girls from all over the United States. As a naive farm girl, she was shocked at how brazen some of these girls were, especially the girls from New York who cussed a lot and were always in trouble. At night, many girls cried and longed to go home. Boot camp was a lot of marching. After six or eight weeks in New York, Rippin was sent to a Naval Air Station in Dallas [Annotator's Note: Dallas, Texas] and assigned to work as a mail clerk. Since gas was rationed, she could not go home as often as she liked. After leaving Dallas, Rippin served the rest of her time in the Navy as an Aviation Machinist's Mate. Rippin was next stationed somewhere else in Texas but cannot recall where. She got to work stripping nuts and bolts from damaged airplanes to be recycled. She got the chance to fly with some British pilots while stationed in Texas. She flew in a single engine plane and the pilot began doing acrobats. She threw up. Every time she moved to a different base she worked as a machinist. Some mistakenly saw her as a nurse. Rippin joined the Navy because all the men were off at war, there were plenty of jobs to be had, and because the pay was much better than doing housework. She was always informed about what was going on in the war and listened to the radio all the time while in the Navy. Many of the girls wrote letters to their boyfriends in the military, Rippin wrote a lot to two cousins. She enjoyed her boot camp experience. Taps [Annotator's Note: final call of the evening in the US military, played during flag ceremonies and at military funerals] was played almost daily she said when news arrived of more dead sailors and airmen. Rippin cried every time it played. In boot camp, Rippin learned a lot and grew up. One night, the lights came on and she heard two girls crying uncontrollably while her bunkmate laughed hysterically. The bunkmate told her that the two girls had been sleeping together. Being naive as she was, Rippin sympathized with the two girls who she thought were just lonely and longing for home. The Navy treated the girls wrong by forcing their discharges. Joining the Navy educated her about the way the world works.


On the day she was discharged [Annotator's Note: from the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES); United States Naval Women's Reserve], Elsie Marie "Kitty" Rippin says she was given two hundred dollars to return home and buy clothes to return to the civilian workforce. While she was in the service, people picked up the tab for her wherever she went in uniform. It was really nice the way people treated her while she was in the service. Rippin was at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station [[Annotator's Note: Naval Station Great Lakes in Lake County, Illinois] when news of VE-Day [Annotator's Note: Victory in Europe Day, 8 May 1945] reached her. All of the girls were singing, dancing, and talking about marriage. She was glad to know she would be going home soon. Rippin was discharged in March 1946 and returned home to Texas where she met her husband at a USO [Annotator's Note: United Service Organizations] dance. She cannot recall where she was on VJ-Day [Annotator's Note: Victory Over Japan Day, 15 August 1945], nor how she returned home. During boot camp, there were German prisoners serving food. She had to be quick about pulling her tray back because they were quick to overfill your plate. It was a requirement to consume everything on your plate, so it was important to only get what you wanted. The German prisoners made the best bread. All the girls would smoke and drink coffee on their breaks, but she ate a candy bar. A lot of the girls dated, even thought it was forbidden. A Petty Officer impregnated a girl and when the military found out, he was forced to divorce his wife and marry the pregnant girl. Upon her arrival home, she took advantage of the G.I. bill [Annotator's Note: the G.I. Bill, or Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, was enacted by the United States Congress to aid United States veterans of World War 2 in transitioning back to civilian life and included financial aid for education, mortgages, business starts and unemployment] and took flying lessons. Her neighbor encouraged her to do it with him. She was the only girl in a flight class of five. She learned to fly in a Piper Cub [Annotator's Note: Piper J-3 Cub observation aircraft] and made the best landing in the class. She earned enough hours for her private license but became pregnant and never returned to earn her commercial license. She loved flying and thought it was much easier than driving a car. Once when it was raining, she was having a difficult time finding a field to land, but she eventually did.


Elsie Marie "Kitty" Rippin's her most memorable experience from World War 2 was getting out and meeting her husband at a dance. Her husband died when he was 80 years old. She served in the war because it was the thing to do and there were lot of jobs available. World War 2 changed her life by taking away her naiveté and allowing her to become educated as to how other people live. She is glad she joined back then so that she can have access to VA [Annotator's Note: Veterans Affairs] benefits today. Today's youth does not know what a war is like, and they do not teach about it in school. She does not like those children who do not honor the American flag, and how immigrants are coming into the country and not honoring America. The country should continue to teach World War 2 to future generations so that the many sacrifices are never forgotten.

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