Irene Smith was 17 years old when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. As her older brother prepared to go off to fight for his country, Smith began to search for some way she too could serve during this time of national crisis. When the women’s branch of the U. S. Naval Reserve, known as the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) was established in July of 1942, she went to the recruiting office to enlist, but was turned away because the minimum age at that time was 20.
In this episode, Smith recalls biding her time until she met the age requirement by going to business school, working nights in a factory and picking up shifts at the local five and dime. When she was finally old enough to join, Smith trained as a mechanic. She explains that although women were allowed to perform many important jobs during WWII, old sexist attitudes remained. Smith details how gender bias affected her role as an aviation machinist’s mate. She also looks back fondly at the Chief Petty Officer they called Pappy Vaughn.