DECATUR — Nearly 70 years have passed since World War II veteran Mary Reed joined the Navy WAVES, but the memory of traveling to St. Louis, Mo., to enlist still burns brightly in her mind.
“We had heard there was trouble in Europe, and I had just graduated from Stephen Decatur High School on June 5, 1941,” recalled Reed, 91, a resident of Imboden Creek Living Center, noting that a little more than six months after she graduated, Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese. “People said it (the country’s reaction to the attack on Pearl Harbor) must have been similar to when Lincoln died.”
The United States joined World War II on Dec. 8, 1941, and less than two years later, Reed decided she wanted to enlist.
“I wanted to be in the Air Force with my brother (Earl),” Reed said.
But a former classmate soon changed Reed’s mind.
“One of the girls I knew in high school said, ‘Oh, Mary, you should join the Navy, you’d like it,’ ” Reed said. “So I changed my mind and joined the Navy.”
Enlisting on Nov. 2, 1943, as an apprentice seaman, the 20-year-old Hillsboro native was sworn into the Navy Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, or WAVES, in Springfield. She then traveled to New York for boot camp and training.
“I had my training at Hunter College,” now known as Leman College, in the Bronx, Reed said.
After five weeks of training in filing, sorting, taking phone calls and other clerical duties, Reed began working as a clerk and was stationed in various New York City locations, including a naval barracks, an inventory coordinating group and a purchasing office.
“We (the Navy WAVES) took care of the men when their ships came in, and we gave them their spending money,” Reed said. “We had men on air flights that we took care of, too.”
Reed said she met a lot of people during her time in the Navy.
“A lot of women joined the WAVES, and I made a lot of friends,” she said. “There were people from every state there with me.”
One very influential person Reed had the opportunity to meet was President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
“We got to meet President Roosevelt twice,” she said, adding that when Roosevelt died April 12, 1945, she was in Washington, D.C.
“I had gone there to spend the weekend with a friend,” she said, “and nothing was open that day. We had to go to her training area to eat and sleep.”
Reed said one of her scariest memories of being in the Navy involved appendicitis.
“I had come home to Illinois on leave and started having some pain,” said Reed. “My mother told me I needed to stay home, but I knew I needed to get back to New York.”
While riding the train back to New York, the appendicitis struck, and Reed had to be taken to a hospital in Brooklyn.
“It was scary not having any of my family around,” Reed recalled.
After serving in the Navy WAVES for almost two years, Reed was honorably discharged as a seaman first class on Aug. 3, 1945.
Making her way back to Decatur, where her family lived, Reed was eager to find a clerical job but ended up doing factory work for a string of companies, including General Electric and Hi-Flier Kite Co.
It was during this time that Reed also met her future husband, Forrest.
“My sister was a secretary for Caterpillar Inc., and his (Forrest’s) sister was a timekeeper,” Reed said. “He (Forrest) dated my sister to start with, but they ended up breaking it off.”
“Dad’s younger brother said he wanted to start dating my mom,” added Sharon Winholtz, Reed’s daughter, “but then Dad asked my mom out.”
Forrest Reed, also a World War II veteran, served in the Army, Tec 5, 130th Infantry, 33rd Division, from March 1941 to November 1945.
“He had his basic training in Hawaii,” said Reed, adding that he was stationed in several places, including Hawaii, the Philippines and New Guinea, as a baker.
“He set up kitchen and baked,” Reed said. “He was also in some infantry, too.”
Reed said the couple met through their sisters after he was discharged and came returned to Decatur.
The two married in 1946, and in 1951, had their daughter, Sharon.
Through owning and operating a restaurant together, to owning three motels, including the Rosewood Motel, which has since been torn down, and Sandy’s Motel, which is still operating at 1675 E. Pershing Road, Reed said they took life as it came and always remembered their time in the service.
“I met a lot of wonderful people, and they were all proud to represent their country,” said Reed.
Forrest Reed was proud he served his country as well, but the effects of malaria, which he contracted while serving in the Army, affected his health for the rest of his life. He passed away in 1982.
Today, as the new Macon County World War II Memorial pays homage to the local veterans who served in the war, Reed looks back on her service with pride, and so does Winholtz.
“It makes me pretty proud,” Winholtz said. “We have bricks being made for both Mom and Dad (for the memorial), and Mom’s brick will be right above Dad’s.”
Reed said she hopes the memorial will inspire more people to serve in the military.
“It’s very important for young men and women to protect our country,” she said.