The Legacy of USS Mayflower: Private and Presidential Yacht, US Navy Warship, Merchant Ship

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From The Mariners’ Museum and Park collection P0001.022-01–PY755

Several years ago, I first learned of USS Mayflower, a presidential yacht. I was studying about the 1905 Portsmouth Peace Conference at the Portsmouth Navy Yard in Kittery, Maine. I was curious but didn’t have time to delve into the ship’s history.

Since then, I keep “bumping into” stories about this ship as I study and learn more about other topics. I read Erik Larson’s Dead Wake about the sinking of Lusitania and then read more about Woodrow Wilson’s relationship with Edith Bolling Galt. Turns out, they spent much of their time getting to know one another while on board USS Mayflower.   Read more

HRPE: The American Red Cross

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Two American Red Cross volunteers hand out donuts to soldiers. Accession # P0003-01–L-16193

We return to our research on the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation (HRPE) with the American Red Cross. The Red Cross played a vital role in maintaining morale and the mental health of those in the military, especially those abroad. During World War II, the Red Cross was the only civilian service organization authorized to work with overseas military personnel, and in fact began providing aid to civilian victims of the war in Europe before the US entered the war in 1941. Red Cross members were a mix of volunteers and employees, who served both at home and abroad. The Red Cross provided supplies, aid, and refreshments to all those who needed it. Many volunteers signed up to be nurses aids through the Red Cross. However, during WWII the Red Cross was probably most famous for their free donuts, to the point that many volunteers were referred to as ‘Donut Dollies’! 

Like many organizations at the time, the American Red Cross held applicants to a very high standard. Female volunteers had to be college graduates, at least 25 years of age, have excellent reference letters and pass physical examinations. The application standards were so high, only 1 in 6 applicants were accepted. After accepting the volunteer position, women were then sent for training in Washington D.C. before being assigned a position on the Homefront or abroad.    Read more

Hampton Roads During WWII: USO Clubs

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Dance floor at Service Club C. Naval Ammunition Depot Band played for the benefit of Enlisted men & their ladies to gave a round of applause to Lt. Burgess for his efforts in making the evening a success. (archive number P0003/01-#J-9176)

While the most recognizable way for individuals to serve their country at times of war is through the service branches, there have historically been many other ways in which people served their country abroad and at home. For example, the United Service Organizations, better known as USO, a nonprofit-charitable organization which provides leisure facilities and shows to United States Armed Forces was founded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1941, to “unite several service associations into one organization to lift the morale of [the] military and nourish support on the home front” (USO.com/about).

In fact, during World War II, there were estimated to be about 3,000 USO clubs worldwide, and Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation was no exception. USO clubs helped soldiers feel at home and gave them the opportunity to step away from the job and the realities of war. They provided leisure, like dances, ping pong tables, and other games; entertainment, sometimes local bands or even Hollywood celebrities would make an appearance (!); and they often had a snack bar, too, selling sandwiches, smokes and soda (but not liquor!) to service people.   Read more

Hampton Roads during WWII: Army Nurse Corps

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Major Walter C. Stebbins stands with the 81st Field Hospital Unit during debarkation. To his right is Captain Eileen E. Donnelly Chief Nurse of the 81st Field Hospital Unit since its activation.

The United States Army Nurse Corps (ANC) was formally established by the US Congress in 1901. Women served as nurses in previous wars, but it wasn’t until 1901 that they were officially on Army Payroll. The ANC did not see large numbers of active duty nurses until World War I, when 20,000 registered Nurses joined. Numbers dropped after the end of WWI, and in 1941 there were fewer than 1,000 Nurses in the ANC. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor numbers quickly grew; six months later there were over 12,000 on duty Nurses. Over the course of World War II, over 59,000 nurses served in the ANC, many serving abroad in North Africa, England, Burma and the Southwest Pacific

While many of the enrollees had nursing experience, few had military experience. A four week training course was instituted for ANC Nurses which taught Army organization; military customs and courtesies; field sanitation; defense against air, chemical, and mechanized attack; personnel administration; military requisitions and correspondence, and property responsibility. Nurses worked in all areas of the army-they went wherever the wounded were, and during WWII they worked close to the front lines. Nurses served under fire in field hospitals and evacuation hospitals, on hospital trains and hospital ships, and as flight nurses on medical transport planes.    Read more

Hampton Roads during WWII: the WACs

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The Women’s Army Corps (WAC) was formed in 1942; originally it was the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), but it was converted to active duty status in 1943. This made WACs unique to other women’s military groups, because it was the first time, and the only group, that integrated women into the United States Military. Around 150,000 women volunteered to serve in the WAC during World War II. Women were not allowed to fulfill ‘active combat’ roles in the military, but that still left over 250 support roles in the army to step into, from stenographer to map maker, photographer to truck driver, mechanic to switchboard operator. All of these positions were vital to the war effort. Many of the women who joined the WAC had a relative or sweetheart already serving, and hoped to bring their loved ones home sooner by aiding in the war effort. 

Most of these women served on the homefront, taking over office and other non-combat jobs so that men were able to go overseas to fight. These women were stationed in every type of state-side Army installation, working with the Army Service Forces, Ground Forces, the Army Air Forces, and in Army Hospitals.   Read more