Making History as a Female WWII Sailor

Mary Carter, then Mary Meter, was a member of the Navy WAVES during WWII. Her job was to assess film data for accuracy of gun and bomb sites.

Prior to World War I, women were rarely found working outside of the home. Common thinking was that women should support their families by staying home. During World War I, America quickly realized women were needed to fill the thousands of jobs left vacant when its men joined the war effort. Women were also allowed to enlist in the Navy and Marine Corps — a first for American armed forces. After the war ended, our soldiers returned to their jobs and most women returned to their homes. But when World War II broke out, women once again hung up their aprons and joined the workforce. And a greater number of women enlisted. Mary Carter, current Advent Christian Village member, was one such woman.

Mary, then Mary Meter, grew up in Northville, NY. She was an avid skier, a good student, and always quick to laugh. She attended Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, class of 1945. While at Cornell, Mary met Dave Carter. Both were part of a Methodist student organization. The two fell in love. Despite the fact that the war had broken out, Dave had not been drafted; he was on deferment because he was studying engineering at Cornell. However, the men in his class were told if they didn’t graduate in ’44, they would be drafted despite not finishing their degrees. A Cornell professor worked out a deal with Dave and some others to work with them during their non-scheduled class times and the school awarded them enough credits to graduate early. Dave graduated and entered the Army Air Corps the summer of 1944.

Many couples Mary and Dave knew were getting married before the men left for boot camp. But they had also witnessed couples who had been changed by the war — becoming different people and wishing they hadn’t gotten married prior. So Mary and Dave decided to remain promised to each other, but did not even get engaged before Dave enlisted. After boot camp, Dave was shipped to Germany to aid in the occupation effort.

Mary Carter, 93, is just as quick to smile now as she was when she was in the Navy during WWII.

Mary finished her degree and graduated in February 1945. Since Dave was fighting, Mary decided to enlist as well. She joined the Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) with the goal of becoming a chaplain’s assistant. She was sent to Hunter College, now known as Lehman College, in the Bronx, NY. During the war, it was commandeered by the Navy to serve as its WAVES boot camp. There, every six weeks, about 2,000 women would attend the camp to receive basic military training. As part of the “singing platoon,” Mary and her fellow WAVES performed throughout the New York area in an effort to raise money for war bonds. “We sang with [Perry] Como and Frankie Sinatra,” Mary says with a smile.

After boot camp, Mary was stationed at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in St. Mary’s County, Maryland. Despite being told before enlisting that she could become a chaplain’s assistant, the Navy discovered that she had taken physics courses while at Cornell and they needed her for another duty. While in Maryland, she “assessed film data for accuracy of gun and bomb sites,” says Mary. Bombers would fly over bombsites with cameras in place where their bombs would normally go. When it came time to drop the bombs, the bombardier’s trigger would activate the cameras and record the site. Mary analyzed this film data to determine whether the bombs would have hit their targets.

For one and a half years, Mary performed this vital service for the US Navy. Dave was discharged on Independence Day of ’46 and Mary was discharged almost two months later. “After we got out, we got together and decided we still liked each other,” Mary laughs. Two weeks after Mary’s discharge, the couple was married on Sept. 14, 1946, and remained married until Dave’s death in March of 2013.

After being discharged and getting married, the couple moved to Elmira, NY. Mary took a job as a clerk typist for the Veterans Administration. Eventually, the couple had four children: one son and three daughters. In 2011, the Carters moved to Advent Christian Village (ACV). She’s one of several WWII veterans who call ACV home. And at 93 years of age, she’s still singing; she’s a member of the alto section in The Village Church’s chancel choir.

As we celebrate the 70th anniversary of World War II, it’s our privilege to celebrate our great military men and women, such as Mary. Thank you, Mary, for your service. We appreciate you!

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