COLONIAL HEIGHTS, Va. (WTVR) – Audrey Classe of Colonial Heights has seen a lot in her 91 years.
But perhaps her strongest memory is of serving in the U.S. Military as a member of the WAVES: Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.
“I just thought I should do something for my country,” Classes recalled from her Colonial Heights living room. “My mother said, ‘Why in the world did you do that?’ ”
Classe, a Petersburg native, was working for Virginia Linen Service when the war broke out.
In July of 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed a bill allowing women to serve in the military. The Navy welcomed them into their ranks as WAVES. They did a lot of the stateside work so the men would go overseas. Some even worked on farms.
A few months later, Classes enlisted.
Crosse, then 22, had her basic training at Hunter College in New York City. She was further trained in Iowa and worked almost entirely in Washington D.C. until well after the war ended.
“We took care of all the death records that came in,” she said. “I gave you a very sad feeling to think that especially these very young men were over there and they were dying. So many of them were under 20 years old.”
But it wasn’t all heartache. She was young, one of 10,000 WAVES in the nation’s capital, seeing new sights and all kinds of new people. It was the era of big band music, and she and her fellow waves would go to shows, meeting other military men and returning home.
“So it was a good time, as well as war time.”
She liked her uniform, and never tired of wearing it day after day, she said. Military discipline came easy to her.
Classe said she didn’t regret anything about her service.
Prior to her stint in the military she had lived in the Petersburg area, one of four girls in her family. Her father died in a crash when she was 9 – the family was in the car with him. She and her mom and sisters got by helping two aunts who operated a grocery.
After the war, Classe returned home and went back to work for Virginia Linen Service.
She eventually met her husband on a blind date. He was a career Army man, and had fought in Germany during World War II.
There’s a chance, Classe said, she may have typed out the death records of some of the men who fought in that campaign with her husband.
They didn’t have children. Cancer claimed her husband many years ago. She’s active in her church and a singing group, the Southernaires.
She reflected on her service as she read some of the handwritten notes on the back of old photograph showing her and her military buddies, including the best friend she shared a hotel room with during her time in Washington.
She hasn’t seen or heard from any of them in more than a half-century, but she hasn’t forgotten them, or their service.
“I’m proud to be an American,” Classe said, “that we have freedoms which so many of the countries do not have. And I hope and pray we keep it that way.”