CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
World War II
Ruth M. Shill was born Ruth M. Loeffler in South Boston, Massachusetts in July, 1918, the eleventh of twelve children of a self-employed grocer. Five of her brothers and a sister served as religious missionaries, two of her brothers in Baghdad, Iraq, and China. She is the last surviving sibling.
Schill was working as a public library secretary in Weymouth, Massachusetts at the outbreak of World War II. As the war progressed, she became interested in a US navy organization created to fill positions ashore and free men for sea service. The organization became known by the acronym created from the first letters of its official title, Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service – WAVEs. Schill joined the WAVEs in January, 1943, and took her basic training at the US Naval Training Center for Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corps Women at Hunter College in New York City. The women were quartered in walk-up (no elevator) apartment houses near the college.
The aptitude tests Schill took at Hunter College indicated that she had potential mechanical skills, and after basic training she was assigned to the Navy Technical Center in Norman, Oklahoma for further instruction. The Oklahoma site was an aircraft assembly and repair depot, and she worked as an Aviation Machinist’s Mate in an environment where men outnumbered women by four to one. After fourteen months in Oklahoma, Schill was transferred to Jacksonville, Florida Naval Air Station, where a similar man-woman ratio existed. Schill’s job was to wash planes, start engines to warm them up and prepare maintenance checklists. She was assigned a Cessna aircraft as her special responsibility. Schill was eventually assigned to service the 13th Naval District Admiral’s staff plane, for which she received monthly flight pay for 100 hours flight time. She regularly washed the admiral’s plane, checked its fuel supply, and secured it for the night. Schill recalled that she enjoyed working on planes at Jacksonville.
At Jacksonville Schill was paid $96 a month and was housed in quarters in which two women shared a room. She recalled that morale was high, although she thought the women worked harder than the men assigned to the post. She was impressed with the navy officers she came in contact with, although a one-eyed former fighter pilot she once flew with seemed nervous, a feeling that made her nervous as well.
Schill was married in August, 1944 in New York to an aviation mechanic she met at Jacksonville. Her husband remained in the navy for twenty years, and she would go home to live with her parents while he was on overseas tours. Schill was honorably discharged due to her marriage on October 9, 1944, and earned the American campaign and World War II Victory medals. After her separation from the navy, Schill worked on aircraft engines for General Electric in Syracuse, New York. She moved around the country after the war, living in California and New York and raising six sons. Her marriage ended in 1963, and she worked for Boeing Aircraft and the Toms River, New Jersey school system as a secretary. She kept in touch with other former WAVEs and had small reunions with them.
Schill showed the interviewer parts of her old uniform and dog tags, a book describing navy work in Norman, Oklahoma, and photos of herself with her former husband and WAVEs cleaning an aircraft hangar.