Clara Klavenga, 92, of Fulton, served her country during World War II as a member of U.S. Naval Reserve or WAVES, Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.
Clara has lived in Fulton all of her life. She currently lives with her sister, Angie. She worked at the Clinton Garment Co. before and after the war. The company was located where Hy-Vee is now, near the train depot.
“You would see train load after train load of soldiers that were going to war,” she said.
While Clara was working in that area, a man was trying to get women to join the U.S. Navy because it was low on sailors. She said she didn’t know that a lot of sailors were holding down jobs a lot of women could do, such as working in the “chow hall.” Women joining the Navy were placed in jobs depending on their education and abilities. When Clara joined the Navy, she didn’t care where she was placed.
Clara enlisted on Oct. 12, 1944, and entered the Navy on Nov. 2, 1944. She attended Hunter’s College in New York for training. She said many people think going into the Navy was easy for the WAVES, but they actually had to go through very strenuous training.
Clara said from the time they arrived at the college, the trainers were constantly yelling at them to toughen them up. They had to learn how to march and one day after marching she passed out while in the food line.
Clara said she also had a lot to learn. At first she was confused by Naval time and some of the Naval language. Eventually she understood everything.
She was then stationed at an Air Force base in Jacksonville, Fla., where she worked issuing airplane parts. The was a large rotabin with 2-inch sections of drawers. Clara would spin the rotabin to get the correct airplane part. At first, she was afraid she would give away the wrong part, but was told a mechanic would know if she gave him a wrong one. Each part was cataloged with a number and the type of plane it was used for. Clara also had to issue out parachutes.
Eventually her job became part of her daily routine. She said she really enjoyed all of the people she worked with. She was discharged on March 7, 1946, and received a honorable service lapel pin.
Clara is proud of her time in the Navy.
“It was real satisfying to know that you actually done something for your country,” she said.
Clara still remembers her time in the Navy and the people she met. During the years, she has remained good friends with one of the girls she roomed with, Hilda Welker, of Mount Pleasant, Pa. They used to visit each other. Now they call each other at least once a month.
Whenever an airplane of soldiers was leaving the base to go off to war, the WAVES would come in and stand by the airplane as a morale builder and see the young men off. To this day, Clara remembers some of the soldiers she saw off and wonders, with a touch of sadness, if they made it home.