Interview of Eva Maria Jarvenpaa Montalbano by Rebecca Sager
April 24, 2017
WAVES and Ladies
A second-generation Finnish-American, Eva Maria Jarvenpaa was born December 16, 1938, in Winchendon, Massachusetts. In relating her childhood in South Royalston, Massachusetts, Eva said, “I grew up on a farm and had a pretty standard childhood.” Although she was very young, she remembers World War II and has memories of her father building submarines in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, of her grandmother hoarding sugar, and of her uncle—a Marine—returning from war. Later, during the Korean War, another uncle also served in the military.
Eva attended grammar school in the little three-room schoolhouse in South Royalston for eight years. In order to attend high school, she had to travel by train every day to Baldwinville. She was a gymnast, and while she wanted to participate in other sports, she was unable because of the school’s distance from her home. She was one of 50 students to graduate from Templeton High School in 1956. After high school, she held a series of jobs, which included being a nanny, working in the accounting department for Heywood Wakefield furniture; and, finally working for an insurance company before finally deciding that life had to hold more for her, and she wanted to find it.
She had seen recruitment posters around town, and her job search finally compelled her to walk into a Navy Recruiter’s office on a cold winter day in early 1957 and enlist in the Navy. When she told her parents, they were shocked, yet proud. Even though this was a peace-time enlistment, her parents still worried about their little girl. Transitioning from farm life to military life began on a train from Springfield, Massachusetts, where she and other recent recruits met on their journey to the Naval Recruit Training Center in Bainbridge, Maryland. “We got there at night,” she said, “I didn’t sleep much at all that night; the next morning was roll call.” Her new life began in the morning with the words: “You are known as WAVES, and, you are ladies.” Those words would define who Eva would become.
Growing up, Eva thought she wanted to be a Marine, but her uncle, a World War II Marine, convinced her otherwise. He told Eva, she didn’t want to be called a “broad-assed Marine.” She said, “He was right.” Even still, WAVES boot camp had its share of adventures. There was a lot of marching and singing. Swimming was not a good experience. She remembered trying to swim in water-logged Navy issued swimsuits that “hung a lot” when they got wet. Taking the swimming test was another adventure—jumping off a high diving platform feet first holding a pair of pants over her head—a pair of pants out of which she was supposed to fashion a life-preserver. “I passed. That’s what mattered.” She and other recruits also served as guides for public tours of the USS Recruit, also known as the USS Neversail, a landlocked dummy ship used by the male recruits for training purposes.
Following graduation, the girls attended “A” school. “I wanted to be a radioman, but they wouldn’t let me,” she explained. Eva was selected for Yeoman school where she was trained for clerical and secretarial duties. She was one of three women in her class of 33 sailors. Yeoman school prepared Eva for her service-related duties. Following graduation, Eva’s first duty station was at BUPERS (Bureau of Naval Personnel) in Washington, DC. “Our job,” she relayed, “was to assign ensigns to their duty stations.” Eva’s Commander assured one ensign who, upon expressing his displeasure with his duty station assignment, said that he would take care of the problem. Although she could not remember the young man’s original duty station, Eva relates that the Commander was good to his word: the young man’s orders indeed were changed—he was transferred to Naval Air Facility, Adak, Alaska.
Eva was then transferred to the Pentagon. “Now the Pentagon is really something,” she said explaining that she was assigned to the Office of Legislative Affairs, where she served under Rear Admiral John S. McCain, Jr. Eva was not fond of her civilian female bosses, but she enjoyed working with the other military personnel in the office. “I really liked the Admiral,” she recalled. She also enjoyed the times when General James Hittle, also a member of the Legislative Affairs Office, would visit with the Admiral. She enjoyed the times when she—a “lowly seaman”—found herself strolling the hallways of the Pentagon arm-in-arm with Admiral McCain and General Hittle.
Her favorite duty while stationed at the Pentagon occurred on May 1, 1959, when she was selected to serve as an usher for Law Day. She served with another sailor and two members of the United States Air Force providing information to visitors to the Pentagon.
Sadly, Eva’s Naval career would end after only 32 months of service. Eva had fallen in love and married the year before. When her husband was transferred to Bainbridge for further schooling, her Captains and the Admiral encouraged her to “follow her husband and be a good Navy wife.” She received an honorable discharge from the United States Navy in November 1959 at which time she began her new career as “a good Navy wife.”
Eva Maria Jarvenpaa served in the United States Navy from 1957 to 1959 in an active-duty role and then served in a supporting role as the wife of an active-duty sailor. She and her Eva and fellow service members on Law Day, May 1, 1959. husband raised their children in both state-side and foreign-duty stations including Bermuda, Sicily, Illinois, Florida, and Louisiana. Eva was not a wartime sailor and is modest about her contribution to the greater cause. But the story of her service demonstrates her desire to put other’s needs ahead of her own and proudly serve her country.
Eva and fellow service members on Law Day, May 1, 1959.