CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
World War II
Ritamarie Rondum was born Ritamarie Groome in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in February, 1924. She attended a Catholic girls’ high school where she studied shorthand and typing. After her graduation in 1942 she worked as a telephone operator, and later as a secretary at the Federal Reserve office in Delaware, and then as a private secretary for a refrigerator manufacturing company.
Rondum’s uncle was a wounded World War I veteran who lived with her family. Her father and uncle worked for the railroad and were frequently absent. Following the outbreak of WWII, her uncle worked on a troop train and often came home with leftover army food, which he distributed to food pantries serving the needy.
As her local male friends began to leave for military service, Rondum began to read about opportunities for women in the military. On February 11, 1944 she enlisted in the navy’s “Women Appointed for Voluntary Emergency Service” or WAVES program. Since she was not yet twenty-one years of age, Rondum had to obtain her parents’ permission to join the WAVES. Her father convinced her reluctant mother to sign the required papers.
Rondum attended boot camp at Hunter College in New York City where, she recalled, her twelve years of Catholic education supervised by nuns prepared her well for the restricted environment of boot camp. Her initial physical revealed “rounded shoulders,” and she was assigned exercises to correct the condition. Other than that, boot camp involved indoctrination into military discipline and customs, successive rounds of marching here and there, “kitchen police” or KP duties, and participating in the “Fifth Avenue War Bond Drive.” She was off duty on weekends and, although forbidden to leave New York City, she went home to Philadelphia to visit her parents.
Towards the end of boot camp, Rondum was interviewed by a WAVE officer who asked her what her assignment preferences were. Although she said she wanted to work at an airfield loading planes, the navy thought otherwise and assigned her to secretarial duties that would make the best use of the expertise she had acquired in civilian life. When her initial training was completed, Rondum boarded a troop train for Cedar Falls, Iowa with a number of other WAVEs for additional training at the campus of Iowa State Teachers College, where she spent her first Christmas away from home. At Iowa State, Rondum, former editor of her high school newspaper, became editor of the WAVE training station newspaper, The Iowave, where she wrote material on base activities for the Waterloo, Iowa civilian paper as well.
On completion of her training Rondum was assigned, with the rank of class A yeoman, to Washington DC, where she lived in a large WAVE barracks complex across from the navy communication center. She worked six days a week with three other WAVES as well as civilian workers, typing and preparing a manual that detailed information on procedures for military officers to follow when awarding and terminating contracts with private suppliers. While returning to Philadelphia to visit her parents, Rondum made some efficiency suggestions to the officer in charge of the project, a Captain Rogers, who was riding on the same train. He subsequently made her his private secretary and assistant, handling personnel matters, maintaining records and revising office management. She subsequently became an assistant to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Material. When on leave or “liberty,” Rondum was often able to hitch rides on naval air flights from Washington to New York and Florida.
At war’s end, WAVES, like male members of the military, were discharged on a point system, predicated upon time in service, overseas service and other criteria. Rondum was assigned to process discharges and received her own, as a yeoman first class, in August, 1945. She was awarded the American Campaign and WWII Victory medals for her service. Rondum returned to Philadelphia by train and attended Temple University on the GI Bill as a theater major. While at Temple she met a fellow theater student who was a former army officer, and they later married and had three children. Rondum graduated from Temple and acted in several television dramas and other productions. Her husband pursued an acting career as well but then turned to teaching. She expressed her gratitude for the GI Bill and stated that both she and her husband firmly believed that access to health insurance and higher education should be provided to all young people.
Rondum displayed photos of herself in uniform for the interviewer. She also provided a copy of a detailed memoir of her service, “An Old WAVE’s Tale,” which is in her file at the NG Militia Museum of NJ in Sea Girt.