The recruiters were glad to see me and after answering some pertinent questions I made an appointment for my physical which I had to cancel. Four months went by and I still had not rescheduled. Why? Because I didn't know how to break the news to my father. He was a very strict parent and I just knew he would not approve. Finally I gathered enough courage and broke the news to him. I nearly fell through the floor when he said "Good for you."
In July 1943 I boarded the train at the Terminal* bound for Palm Beach Florida where I was to train. Florida in July is hardly anyone's dream of heaven! We arrived with our heavy suitcases grimy and sweaty at the beautiful Biltmore Hotel.
We had assumed that the Coast Guardsmen standing at the curb would assist us with our luggage. Instead with arms folded they just glared at us. One laughingly informed us that since we were to replace them for active duty we might as well start learning to act like one of the boys.
The Biltmore a famous resort no longer resembled that prestigious hotel. All the furniture and carpeting was removed and the rooms for two were now rooms for 6. The heat was oppressive - no air conditioning at that time. We looked at each other and if it were possible I believe we would have all taken the next train home.
Six girls getting ready for 6am muster was no small feat. I locked myself in the bathroom that first morning planning to shower. Angry knocks at the door brought home the realization that privacy was a thing of the past and that all bathroom activities were going to be shared!
Adjustments were not easy, perhaps easier for me than some others. Many girls did not even know how to launder their clothes. Finally the strenuous 6 weeks of basic training were over and we anxiously awaited our assignments. I drew Norfolk Va. which didn't particularly appeal to me. One of my roommates from Minnesota desperately wanted to go there because her boyfriend was stationed there. The officer in charge gave her permission to switch with anyone willing. I decided it didn't matter to me so I switched. Her assignment was Miami Beach only 50 miles away! Although I was not happy about going there I never regretted it. I made great friends and enjoyed my work. However in 3 years that's as far as I got!"
(*) Referring to Cleveland's Union Terminal train station.
Click HERE to see some of my grandmother's photos from her time in the Coast Guard
©2014, copyright Emily Kowalski Schroeder