Shortly after her graduation from St. Peter High School in 1942, former Jefferson City, Mo., resident Mary (Roling) Hood entered a nurse training program in Boonville, an educational endeavor she pursued for a year before deciding to fulfill her yearning for an adventure while also serving her country.
“I decided to join the Navy because they always said that you could see the world,” Hood grinned, “but when it was all finished, I never left the U.S.”
Enlisting in August 1944, Hood became a member of the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES)—an organization established on July 30, 1942 to help fill positions left vacant stateside because of the scores of men deploying overseas to fight in World War II.
The young recruit was soon on her way to the Bronx campus of Hunter College in New York, the location that became the training base for all WAVES by 1943, according to the U.S. Naval Institute. (Since the college had no residential dorms, the Navy incurred a yearly cost of $1 million to rent the entire campus for WAVES training, converting the college into a site known as “USS Hunter”). Hood remained at the campus for the next six weeks to finish her boot camp, which included drawing her military uniforms and an introduction to military traditions, customs and discipline.
“When I finished,” the 91-year-old veteran explained, “they sent me to San Diego for a few weeks of intensive training with patients to become a hospital attendant.” She added, “I was then stationed there, taking care of the boys coming back from overseas.”
Balboa Naval Hospital, which is now the Naval Medical Center San Diego, was located within the grounds of Balboa Park in San Diego and treated nearly 172,000 patients during World War II. During the period of the Vietnam War, it earned the distinction of being the largest military hospital in the world.
“A lot of the (sailors) that we were treating were coming back from the Pacific with cat fever,” said Hood.
In the book “Occupying Force: A Sailor’s Journey Following World War II,” author D. Charles Gossman describes “cat fever” as a generic term doctors used for a variety of “maladies ranging from the common cold to serious influenza-like symptoms.” .
Although her aspirations for world travel never emerged while she was in the Navy, the veteran recalls making trips to exciting locations such as Hollywood and Tijuana, Mexico, accompanied by fellow WAVES and sailors.
Hood remained at the hospital in San Diego for the rest of her enlistment, receiving her discharge in the summer of 1946. She made the decision to continue living in California for nearly four years after leaving the service. In 1950, she returned to Mid-Missouri and met her fiancée, Clarence Hood; the couple married two years later, raising three sons and three daughters. After several moves, they settled in Jefferson City, where Hood worked for local health care facilities and home health care companies.
In 2007, her husband passed away two months prior to their 55th wedding anniversary and Hood now resides in an assisted living facility in Grain Valley, Mo., and enjoys reflecting upon memories from her past naval service. Though the military did not provide her the overseas adventure she sought as a young woman, Hood affirms that her participation in the Central Missouri Honor Flight in 2009 helped to fulfill another wish—to visit the war memorials in Washington, D.C.
“While I was in boot camp in New York, we were never allowed to leave the campus and visit any of the sites or memorials, so it was somewhat disappointing. The most memorable part of that period was when I took the train to San Diego—it was the first time I had been on a train and it was so exciting for me!” she exclaimed.
In reflection, she added: “But the Honor Flight was a great trip … and all of the veterans that were with us reminded me a lot of all of the wonderful boys we took care of (at San Diego). There were even a few other women veterans on the flight with me,” she smiled.
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
Jeremy P. Amick is a military historian and author dedicated to preserving our nation's military legacies.