WATERBORO — When the opportunity arose for young Bessie “Betty” I. Fleetwood to join the WAVES ”“ the acronym for Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, during World War II ”“ the young woman from Buxton said she jumped at the chance.

“I figured becoming a WAVE would do some good,” she said, as the United States, like many other countries, was thrust into war.

Fleetwood, 90, was among several veterans who took to the podium at Massabesic High School Thursday, where the Naval Junior Reserve  Officer Training Corps hosted a Veteran’s Day assembly to thank veterans for their service. Others scheduled to speak included Korean War veteran Herbert Young, Vietnam War veteran James Bachelder and Gulf War veteran Roger Hooper.

Veterans were welcomed into the gymnasium through a sword arch formed by NJROTC officers. Cadet Lt. Jazmyn Ireland spoke about the meaning of Veteran’s Day and the Massabesic High School chorus sang “America, the Beautiful.”

Ireland introduced Fleetwood, a 1940 graduate of Buxton High School, who was the only girl among five brothers. All joined one branch or other of the military ”“ and, said Fleetwood, all survived the war.

After high school, Fleetwood went to work at a machine shop in Westbrook, making parts for the war effort. Then came the chance to join the WAVES, at that time a division of the U.S. Navy Reserves.

“I didn’t know any women who’d joined, but I was ready to sign up,” she said.

As well as doing her bit for the war effort, Fleetwood pointed out that in the 1940s, there weren’t many opportunities for women.

“Most women felt compelled to marry,” she said, and then, with a chuckle, added, “The war came along and saved us.”

She and 250 other WAVEs wound up in Cedar Falls, Iowa, where they received training, and then she was sent to Rhode Island, where she was assigned to an information office and later the base library.

One day, she told the assembly, an officer “patted her on the behind.”

Fleetwood said she knew how to respond ”“ she turned and slapped him on the face. She was punished by losing her leave for a month; the officer was assigned to an outgoing battalion.

Fleetwood, who had married a sailor, was discharged Oct. 20, 1945, a little more than a month after Japan formally surrendered.. Divorced with two young children, she said she attended college on the GI bill, first earning a bachelor’s degree and later her masters, and taught seventh grade  for many years in Rochester, N.Y.

In those days, she said, teaching and nursing were the few opportunities open to women.

“We were the forerunners of the women’s movement,” she said of women who worked for the war effort, whether in the factories or in the service. “We dared to do things differently.”

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, Ext. 327 or [email protected].

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