Dorothy Arft loves the Navy. She spent one four-year hitch in the service as a seaman and 29 years working as a civilian employee for the Navy.
Shortly after graduating from high school in Ohio in 1951, during the Korean War, she signed up. Arft was 18 and looking for adventure.
After bootcamp at Bainbridge, Md. she was sent to Teletype school in California before being stationed at the Naval Recruiting Center in Washington, D.C. Washington was a great post for a 20-year-old away from home for the first time.
She was billeted in barracks in Arlington, Va., just outside Washington, with 500 other WAVES, Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. She spent her first year sending and receiving communications via a Teletype machine.
It was a glorified electric typewriter that typed only capital letters on a continuous roll of yellow paper. To be a good Teletype operator one had to “swing with the machine,” which meant you had to type at a certain rate–not too fast and not too slow.
After a year of pounding the keys of a Teletype she became a post office clerk that served the recruiting center. Arft spent the remainder of her time in the service in this capacity.
“Off duty a bunch of us would go over to a nearby bar to see Jimmy Dean play,” she recalled with a smile. “At the time he was a young singer and guitar player who wasn’t making enough money to send his father a Christmas present. So we all chipped in and helped him get something for his dad.”
“Our barracks were located near the Pentagon and across the street from Arlington Cemetery. Because we didn’t make much money, $75 a month, we spent a lot of time walking through Arlington on our time off,” she recalled.
WAVES were often required to fall out for parades and official ceremonies where they stood for hours as part of a celebration for a dignitary who came to Washington. It could be freezing cold or boiling hot, but they had to be there in uniform for the ceremony.
During this period she began dating a seaman who served aboard a missile destroyer on the west coast. Dates were few and far between.
“Every once in a while I would hop a military flight and fly out to the west coast to see my boyfriend, Bill,” Arft said. “I got a hop out of Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, to California one time. It was a small military plane about six passengers and it developed mechanical problems over Ogden, Utah.
“All of a sudden the pilot said to me, ‘We’ve got to bail out!’ We all had parachutes, but I told him, ‘You guys go. I’m staying with the plane. I’m not going!’
“‘You’ve got to jump,’ the pilot said again.
“‘I’m staying with the plane,’ I told him as calmly as I could.
“‘I’ll jump with you,’ he said.”
While all this was going on the plane was turning in circles over a Strategic Air Command base several miles below. By some quirk of fate whatever was ailing the plane straightened out and the three aboard the little plane weren’t forced to bail out.
“When we landed at the SAC base a Marine with a gun pointed at us met us. He took us to the commanding general of the base who was greatly amused that I wouldn’t jump out of the airplane,” Arft said.
William Arft, the fellow she was flying out to the West Coast to see in 1959, was serving aboard an early guided missile destroyer skippered by Capt. Elmo Zumwalt. He eventually became Chief of Naval Operations and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Her soon-to-be husband got in on the ground floor of Naval missile warfare. He retired from the Navy in 1973 a senior chief after 27 years of service.
After they were married Dorothy joined the Navy once more as a civilian office worker. She retired in 1999 after 29 years of civilian service with the rank of G-7.
After Dorothy retired the couple moved to Harbor Cove in North Port on Dec. 31, 1999. They were married 51 years until Bill’s death. They have two daughters: Dawn and Jini.
This story first printed in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Sept. 5, 2011 and is republished with permission.
Click here to view Arft’s Collection in the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project.