Editor's note: Today is the second installment of the Clinton Herald series "Remembering D-Day" and focuses on the local efforts at home, including the women who went to work during the war and one who enlisted as she watched the men go off to fight.
FULTON, Ill. — Clara Klavenga was in her early 20s, working at the Clinton Garment Factory, when the nation was in the throes of World War II.
Now 100 years old and a resident of Harbor Crest in Fulton, she remembers how she and her co-workers saw trains full of young men traveling through Clinton, headed for Chicago and military service.
"We saw all those soldiers going to war. Trainload after trainload," she recalls. "That was the sad part, seeing all of this youth going off to war."
It was while having lunch one day in 1944 that she ended up at a table near a Navy recruiter. A conversation began, and a decision was made.
She was joining the Navy as a member of U.S. Naval Reserve or WAVES, Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. She enlisted Oct. 12, 1944, and entered the Navy three weeks later.
She attended Hunter’s College in New York for training and ended up stationed in Jacksonville, Florida, where she would serve during her two years.
"I loved it. It wasn't hard at all," she said. "They chose the girls as to what they were able to do."
She ended up working near an airport, filling orders for airplane parts. She was a little nervous at first.
"I'd have felt terrible if I gave them the wrong part," she said. She was assured that the sailors would know what they needed. "They said they'd have this fella who was on duty, who was a sailor and he would show me."
She was discharged March 7, 1946, and received a honorable service lapel pin. To this day, her Navy days stand out as an important part of her life.
"I just felt good that I could work for my country," she said.
The Sustaining Wings
In August 1942, a group of women began serving coffee and sandwiches from express trucks and became known as the Clinton Chapter of the Sustaining Wings, Iowa. Month by month the canteen grew at the Clinton depot, to the point that a canteen shelter house was built on the station platform between Tracks 1 and 2. The railroad also had loaned a dining car to the chapter.
Service men and women passing through on Chicago and North Western trains daily from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. were treated to sandwiches or cake, coffee, and cold drinks free of charge, with the items made available by ration stamps that were forwarded to the Sustaining Wings chapter.
Each day, between 1,500 and 3,500 service members were served at the canteen. The canteen operated until in March 1946.
Over 2 million men and women were served during its operation.
The Iowa Wipes
In Iowa, some of the real life Rosie the Riveters were employed in Clinton working on the Chicago and North Western Railway. They were hired to work as engine wipers in Clinton. They also worked in Chicago; Provisio, Illinois; Green Bay, Wisconsin; and Madison, Wisconsin.
"At first we did not know how they'd take to the job," said labor foreman W.J. Whalen about the Wipes, according to a display at the Clinton County Historical Society. "But the women soon convinced us that they look at all those dusty locomotives in the same way they do the job at a big dirty house."
The Clinton railroad yard averaged about 12 trains a day with 17 women employed as Wipes, who worked full eight-hour shifts.
Tomorrow's "Remembering D-Day" installment will feature Clinton resident Henry Langrehr, who parachuted behind enemy lines in France as the D-Day invasion began June 6, 1944.