ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - During the late 1930s the perception of a woman's role was limited. By 1939 their capabilities were being seen in a different light. WWII created new images. Women began to work in factories producing planes, munition and building ships, becoming drivers of fire engines and trains. The war created a need that women like Gloria Bowie were able to meet. She enlisted as a WAVE in 1943, Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, a unit of the U.S. Naval Reserve.
"I wanted to join but my dad didn't want me to,” said Bowie. “He had to sign because of my age. I was 21. He put the paper aside that I brought home for him to sign and he didn’t want to sign it and I knew it just by his actions."
Bowie's father wouldn’t tell her why. Perhaps he couldn't see his daughter serving; defying stereotypes and helping to redefine a ‘woman's role’ as a service member during WWII.
"It stayed there for a few days and then he finally agreed," Bowie says her father's signature sent her on a two year journey unlike anything she had ever experienced. "They told me my mechanical aptitude was high and they would send me to the mechanical school and I ended up working on the airplanes."
She would end up repairing fighter planes damaged during battle.
“Sometimes if it was bullet holes there would be problems, dents and maybe even holes on the medal parts too,” said Bowie. “I think we have at times thought about them, who was flying these planes. But it was something that if you dwell on it you're not felling very well. It's misery.”
By the fall of 1942 the U.S. Navy had produced a record 10,000 women for active service. Propaganda leaflets urged women to participate in the war effort, calling for single women ages 20 through 30 as auxiliaries to the Armed Forces, Civil Defense, and war industries.
Bowie and the WAVES worked six days a week during the war more than 70 years ago. She's held on to countless photos of her days as a WAVE, history filled albums and priceless memorabilia including her Navy card dated May 4, 1943 to December 5, 1945.
Nowadays she still likes to fix things. In the veterans nursing home where she lives, you’ll often find Bowie putting together the pieces of puzzles left unsolved. She has a saying posted outside of her room that she lives by; Age is inevitable, but growing old is optional.
“I've managed 95 years,” said Bowie. “Of course I always say that I'm 59 you know when you just turn it around.”
Bowie was stationed in Hawaii for most of the war. That’s where she met her husband, Ronald. He too was a member of the U-S Navy during WWII. As for her role in helping to erase stereotypes of women during that time Bowie says the U.S. simply needed women in the war effort and she's grateful to have been able to help.