CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
World War II
Lois Woodbury Trudel was born in Portland Maine in March, 1923. Prior to the American entry into World War II she was employed as a Western Union telegraph operator, a job which entailed traveling throughout New England. In her interview, Trudel recalled that she learned of the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor over the radio while she was ironing clothes – for the rest of their lives most Americans recalled exactly where they were and what they were doing that day, including the most mundane tasks, at the moment they learned of the Japanese attack. She remembered that the aftermath of Pearl Harbor gave rise to a feeling of national unity, and that everyone she knew wanted to aid the war effort. Several of her acquaintances joined the naval reserve, and her best friend, a student nurse, enlisted in the navy as well.
Trudel’s father was a navy veteran of World War I, and Lois identified with that branch of service. With the support of her parents, she joined the navy’s female branch, the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). In January, 1944, Trudel was sent to Hunter College in New York City for basic training. She remembered that there were no uniforms available for her recruit class for several weeks after their arrival at Hunter, and that women from the South, who had arrived with no winter clothing, suffered quite a bit from the cold. When she was finally issued a uniform, Trudel, unhappy that her issue skirt extended down to her calf, raised the hem four inches. While in basic training the WAVES were housed in a building with two bedroom apartments and four bunks per bedroom. Male sailors were housed in a separate facility several blocks away. Trudel remembered that the apartments had wooden floors, which the trainees wet mopped daily, a practice that inadvertently resulted in water damage estimated at $16,000.
Trudel remembered that her training day at Hunter, which began with a wakeup call at 6:00 am, consisted largely of learning how to march and then marching to various classrooms for training in various aspects of radio transmission. After leaving Hunter, she spent nineteen weeks of advanced training in radio and code procedures and related tasks at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Male sailors also attended the radio school, but classes were gender segregated. Upon completion of her training at Oxford, Trudel was granted a week’s leave and then transferred to Bainbridge, Maryland for three months further instruction in naval procedures and radar theory. On completion of this training she was assigned to a navy radio facility in Chatham, Massachusetts, where she worked varied night and day shifts, with three days off in between.
Trudel’s job at Chatham was to listen for U-boat and other enemy ship conversations in Morse Code and then send the results to Washington, DC, where they could be decoded. She recalled that the navy captured several U-boats and sunk one off the New Jersey shore during her time there. The station she worked at was one of a number the navy maintained along the east coast, from Eastport, Maine to the Caribbean islands. Men staffed the offshore stations in the Caribbean, and both men and women were assigned to those sited in the continental United States. Trudel worked for male officers and warrant officers, and she noted that there were no female officers involved in the project.
Chatham was close to home, and while she was stationed there, Trudel managed to get home on a pass every ten to twelve days. When they heard of the end of the war in Europe in May, 1945, the Chatham WAVES held a victory celebration. The war was not over for them, however, and they were soon on their way to Seattle and then Bainbridge Island, Washington, where they received preliminary training in Japanese code. With the end of the Pacific war, Trudel was shipped to San Diego, where she worked arranging transportation to the east coast for soldiers returning from the Pacific theater of war, until her own discharge in January, 1946. She was awarded the Good Conduct Medal and the Navy Unit Commendation for her service.
At the time of her interview, Trudel was a member of a national organization of former WAVES. She had attended reunions in Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Washington, DC, Portland, Maine, and other cities and was a member of a local chapter that met in an American Legion hall. Trudel displayed her WAVE uniform, Chatham identification badge, pictures of herself in uniform and a scrapbook for the interviewer. Lois Woodbury Trudel was chosen as “Veteran of the Year” by the Stars and Stripes newspaper in 1992.