Kay Mc Neil of Port Charlotte, Fla., who grew up in Boston and graduated from high school in 1941, went to work in a defense plant as an 18-year-old rivet-maker for “Rosie the Riveter.”
Her second defense plant job was working for Bendix Corp. making airplane propellers.“By 1944 I had had enough of defense plant work. All my friends were joining the military and I decided I wanted to become a Navy WAVE. My older brother was in the Navy and my younger brother went in the Coast Guard,” the 89-year-old former WAVE recalled.
Problem was, she had to have her parents permission to sign up for the WAVES because she wasn’t 21. They weren’t keen on the idea because they were concerned she might meet a sailor, fall in love and get hitched if she was in the WAVES living on base far away from home.
Furthermore, she could make four times as much working in a high paying defense plant job as a civilian than the $21 a month she was paid as a WAVE. She kept bugging her parents about serving in the Navy and finally they relented.
“I was sworn into the WAVES on my birthday, March 24, 1944, on the steps of the Boston State House along with 100 other girls,” Kay said. “I went to six weeks of basic training at Hunter College in Bronx, N.Y.
“While I was at Hunter College they filmed part of a Hollywood movie on location there called: “Here Come the WAVES,”‘ she said with a smile. It starred Bing Crosby and Betty Hutton.
“A bunch of us were filmed marching down the street at Hunter in our heavy winter uniforms in June during the height of a hot summer in New York. When we saw the movie we couldn’t tell who anyone was because we were all wearing the same Navy uniform and looked alike.
“After boot camp I took a long, long ride on a Louisville & Nashville train and ended up at Pensacola Naval Air Station. I became a Plane Captain. Together with two other girls we serviced SNJ ‘Harvards,’ two-seated trainer planes,” she said.
“We went down to the flight line every morning and started up the SNJs. There were three girls to a plane and we made sure the plane was running properly before the student pilot and instructor arrived,” Kay noted. “I was a seaman 1/C and when I wasn’t working on planes I stood hanger watch for four hours at a time both day and night.
“It was interesting work that I liked because it was outdoors. I didn’t want to be a secretary confined to some office in Washington,” she recalled 65-years later.
“I met my husband, William, while serving at Pensacola. He was a tail gunner on a B-24 ‘Liberator’ bomber that flew in from the Pacific. After years of war he couldn’t believe the number of women stationed at the base in Pensacola.
“Four of us girls had gone to a base movie and were having a few beers at the canteen waiting for the show to start. At the next table were four sailors who had just shipped in from the South Pacific,” Kay said.
“They were looking at us and making wise cracks. “‘I bet they wouldn’t consider us.They’re officer material,” one of the young sailors said to his friends and laughed,” she said.
“At lunch the next day I was back at the canteen eating by myself when one of the guys from the night before walked up to my table and asked if he could join me. By the time we finished eating he asked me for a date. That was about the middle of February and we were married in August 1945.”
Kay and Bill remained married for 54 years until his death in 1999.
“We were married at the base chapel on Aug. 21, 1945. We got a 72-hour pass. In those days there were only two hotels in Pensacola and they were both full. My husband talked to the manager of the San Carlos, the only hotel service people could stay in, and showed the manager his 72-hour pass. It had his name on it–‘William McNeil.’
“The manager couldn’t believe his eyes, that’s my name, too, he told William. “‘I’ll get you a room,'” he assured the young sailor. “We got the honeymoon suite on the fourth floor of the hotel,” Kay said.
“A skinny, young black boy took our bags up to our room. Thirty-five years later Bill and I were back in Pensacola and stopped by the old hotel. It had been turned into an assisted living facility for old folks. I spotted this old guy sitting in the corner eyeing us. I told him how we had been honeymooners 35 years earlier and stayed at the hotel and that my husband had the same name as the hotel manager.
“The old black gentleman looked up at me and said, ‘I remember you all. I was the young guy who took your bags up to your room 35 years ago! Now I live here.'”
“VJ-Day (Victory over Japan) was quite a day in Pensacola, it was Aug. 15, 1945 and the whole town celebrated. As soon as they got the word the war was over they locked the front gate at the Air Station to keep as many sailors on base as possible. They probably saved Pensacola from destruction from partying sailors.
“William and I slipped out the back gate in ‘Jelly Belly’s’ old car and went over to the Chief’s house where the celebration was on. They had a bathtub full of iced beer. Sailors and gals were lying around in the yard, in the house – all over the place,” Kay said as she smiled. “We sang, danced and had a good time.”
The Mc Neils were both discharged from the Navy in 1945. Bill went back to work for a drafting company he had worked for before the war. Eventually he found a better job working for a heavy equipment company as a quality machine engineer.
“The firm helped build Interstate-75 in this part of Florida. William’s firm also worked for the Mackie Brothers who were involved in the development of Marco Island in the Naples area when it was little more than a swamp,” she said.
In 1986 Bill retired and the couple moved to Charlotte County the same year. The couple has four children: Maureen, Michael, Denise and Sheila, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Mc Neil’s File
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Aug. 26, 2013 and is republished with permission.
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