This is the story of two sisters from Mingo who couldn’t bear to spend World War II on the home front and decided to join up. Much of this story comes from Gladys Poorbaugh Meeker’s memoirs, compiled by her younger sister, Doris Byal.
Gladys Poorbaugh and her older sister, Jeanne, grew up in Mingo. Jeanne was born in 1920, and Gladys was born three years later. During the early stages of World War II, the girls saw Women’s Army Corps (WAC) training at Fort Des Moines, and in the words of Gladys, “we were not particularly impressed.” Still, the thought was there that they should be doing something for their country.
One day, Gladys saw two Navy WAVES, and she thought, “They look really smart.” She decided that was what she wanted to do and joined shortly after her 20th birthday in January 1944. Jeanne joined her in the WAVES the following December. Boot camp for the WAVES was at Hunter College in New York City.
By February, Gladys was on a troop train to New York. After indoctrination in the Navy ways, she and her boot camp graduates were ready to serve for the duration of the war, and up to six months following the war. She was sent directly to the Bureau of Personnel in Arlington, Va. She was a little disappointed.
“It was decided that I did not need any training,” she wrote. “I had hoped to be assigned for training at Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. We lived at Arlington Farms, a quonset hut village across the street from Arlington National Cemetery. The street and village are no longer there.”
Gladys joined hundreds of other WAVES at the Office of Dependents Benefits, working eight and a half hour days.
“We worked day shift one week and swing shift the next week,” she recalled. “It was the files section which handled between 4,000 and 5,000 applications per day for family allowance each in a separate folder. It was a lowly, boring job doing nothing but filing.”
Then one day, her boss overheard her complaining and asked her to come to his office. He asked what kind of job experiences she had, and she told him she had been a private secretary. Eventually, she found herself assigned to replace a sailor, who was sent to sea, working on emergency special cases.
On the morning of April 16, 1945, Gladys and Jeanne had the honor of joining two other WAVES in the tower of Independence Hall in Philadelphia and were photographed saluting as the bell tolled 63 times following the death of President Franklin Roosevelt. The photo was captured by the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper.
Gladys was happy doing her new job until she saw a call for volunteers to go to Pearl Harbor to replace sailors for sea duty. She left for Pearl Harbor in May 1945.
After a short time at home, Gladys left for Hawaii via San Francisco. At Pearl Harbor she was assigned to a small office at one of the secure gates into Pearl, where she logged in trucks bringing ammunition to the ships in the harbor. She worked 12-hour shifts with 36 hours off. There was plenty of time to go to the beach and other trips around the island. She remembered dancing to the big band music of Bob Crosby, who often played there.
When Japan surrendered in August 1945, her small office was closed and she was reassigned to the Navy Administration Office doing “make work” for a couple of captains, who didn’t have much to do either.
“I do remember that all the work we did had to have seven carbon copies. It made for accurate typing,” she wrote.
Gladys returned to the mainland in May 1946, and attended Iowa State that fall. She later transferred to University of Iowa, where she met her husband, Everett Meeker. She served as a Home Economist for Johnson County until 1953. Gladys passed away June 1, 2011, at the age of 87, in Washington, Iowa.
Her sister Jeanne stayed in Washington, D.C. until the end of the war, and continued to work as a secretary for the federal government for another 25 years before her retirement. She married Earl Bonar in 1980, and they spent their retirement traveling and wintering in Texas. She died on Jan. 1, 2012, at the age of 91.
John Jennings can be contacted at (641) 792-3121 ext. 425 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.