Sitting in her house is a letter from the Acting Naval Secretary Thomas Modly.
Under his letterhead, Modly wrote a handful of kind words followed by a signature. You might think the letter would be placed next to the shrine in the house to Edmund Green, the Navy sailor who saw heavy action in the Pacific during World War II.
However, while the letter is addressed to a Green, it is not to Edmund, but rather his wife, Jean. That’s because Shopkeeper Jean Green, much like her husband, served during World War II as a member of the U.S. Navy.
For three years, she served alongside a few thousand other women who were trained and ready to fight should they be called on for active service, whether in Europe or in the Pacific.
“I really hated to leave the Navy, because I really liked it,” she said. “But I had to leave because the war was over.”
Green was born on Oct. 13, 1924, in Cairo, Illinois, to Myrtle Marie Combs and Thomas Morris.
Cairo was a small town while Green lived there, but soon she would have big responsibilities. At a young age, her parents would get divorced, and her mother would need to find work so as to care for her daughter.
Marie, the name Green’s mother went by, found work as a waitress working on a riverboat on the Mississippi River, serving food to the men who were working on the barges and steamships.
“She had to get a job … they got divorced, and she had to take care of me,” said Green, adding that the sometimes weeks that her mother spent on the river meant she would need someone to look out for her. “She boarded me out to different people that she knew, and she would pay my way.”
She had grown up as the only child of her mother, although her father would remarry and have a few children with his new wife. And her mother would board her out to families along the river so they could see each other whenever Marie’s boat passed by.
“I was very close with my mother,” Green said as she thought back on the woman who had done everything possible to raise her child during an era when raising children was difficult, especially as a single mom. The strength and beauty of the lessons her mother embodied were present still 70 years later at a Sand Canyon dining room table.
However, Green said she still remembers the day she was told about her mother, her rock, her caregiver.
“She was on her way back from town (in Burlington, Iowa), and they were on the railroad tracks … she was with a friend that worked on the boat also. They were coming back, and all of a sudden, there was no lights and the railroad track ended.”
Green said the track where Marie was walking was heading over a body of water, but had not yet been completed, leading to a sharp drop-off to the water below.
“The lady tried to stop her by grabbing her hand … but my mother was yanked head first,” said Green. “She hit her head on one of the barges on the river.”
The fall killed her mother, and, at the age of 15, Green would be responsible for arranging the funeral for the woman who had been her guiding light for her entire life.
“We put her in the casket and, coming back … when we would make a stop …,” said Green, wiping tears away from her eyes seven decades later, “I would hear the casket hit the (hearse) wall back and forth. That bothered me very badly … knowing that it was my mother. I never should have had to have done that … she’s all I had.”
But, growing up, Green developed an independent personality, one that admired her mother for realizing what needed to get done and doing it, she said. This would be a lesson Green would carry on for the rest of her life.
At age 17, Green was a seasoned veteran in the workforce. She had lived with a woman named Ms. Jessie after her mother had died, and still to this day Green calls Ms. Jessie, a non-related boarder of hers, “my grandmother.”
But in 1941, the world would receive a shock when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. With a large uptick in recruitment as the United States prepared itself to fight the Axis forces in two theaters, Green saw her chance to gain that full independence she was brought up to seek.
In 1943, Green joined the Navy as a member of the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, or WAVES.
In 1942, Congress passed Public Law 689, which established the women’s reserve as an integral part of the Navy. The WAVES would be required to serve for the duration of the war plus six months, but all of them were volunteers and not drafted.
By the end of the war, Women’s Reserve Director Mildred McAfee and her staff had trained 20,000 officers and 70,000 enlisted personnel from urban and rural communities across socioeconomic backgrounds, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command.
Green was one of those 70,000 women who were trained in everything from being yeomen, or administrative and clerical workers, to chauffeurs to pharmacists to aircraft mechanics. For Green, her assignment, after basic training at Hunter College, was to be a “shopkeeper” on a base in Washington, D.C..
In order to be a WAVE, Green said you needed to have a certain type of work ethic and attitude. And she found it with her team members on base who were in charge of laundering the uniforms.
“Well, there was no doubt I liked it,” said Green. “It really was three of us girls in a little quonset hut running this little shop. (The Marines) brought in their suits, and we took it in … did all the cleaning, and, Lord, whatever else, and we just hung it up and put the laundry on the shelves.”
Green said she loved the part where they would get presents and gifts and compliments on a daily basis from the men in uniform about to ship out. Additionally, the base was located on the corner of Nebraska and Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, D.C., meaning the night life was active for her and her two teammates.
“They hired buses to take us girls as WAVES to different Army barracks when they had dances,” said Green. “We always had an officer over us, but we’d all get on the bus and, when we got there, we’d dance. We weren’t allowed to leave with anybody, you had to stay at the dance, but you know, you could make a date first and then maybe meet them somewhere afterward.”
“I really hated to leave the Navy, because I really liked it,” said Green. “But after I met my husband, I wasn’t interested in anybody else.”
One date is all it took, Green said. One date and they would get married.
Working every day to clean what she described as truckloads of uniforms, Green said she had enough money to go out with her friends on a regular basis.
One such night, they went rollerskating with a number of fellow WAVES and servicemen. While standing in line, a rude Naval seaman walked by and maligned his friends for wanting to go into the rink.
“He made some fresh remark. He said, ‘Oh, this place is all WAVES,’” Green said, remembering the exact location and verbiage of the remark made by the sailor. “I didn’t like that remark … I gave him a dirty look and then didn’t want to have anything more to do with him at the time.”
Once they were inside, Green was in her element. She described herself as an excellent skater, likening it to her ability to also cut a rug very well on a dance floor. As a WAVE, she was already athletic from the training she had received, and rollerskating came second nature to her.
However, while she danced around the smooth rink, she saw that sailor again, leaning against the soda bar, praying to God that his feet would stay underneath him as he struggled to keep his balance on rollerskates.
“He was kind of going back and forth, and I thought that maybe he needed help skating,” she said, with a little smirk on her face. “It was a good excuse, so I went over and introduced myself and asked him if I could help him.”
She learned his name was Edmund Green, and he was a sailor assigned to a destroyer in the Pacific fleet. He was heading out the next day, and what happened next was a surprise to both of them.
Green said they skated all night together, shut the place down, with her teaching him how to skate while he asked her questions about herself. They spoke until 3 a.m., and the “rude” sailor even walked her home. And then they parted ways, him to his barracks and she to hers. They went to a movie the next day together, but once the movie ended, he left, and it seemed like they might never see each other again.
“He wanted to call me, though,” she remembered. “But when he got back into port.”
They wouldn’t hear much from each other for the next 16 months, but according to her, she thought about him every day and he did the same. Edmund would complete an entire tour in the Pacific, hopping from battle to battle, island to island, while Green continued to do her work back in the quonset hut in Washington, D.C.
But once Edmund got a chance to call her again from the States, he did. He called, and 16 months after they first met, he bought her a plane ticket out to the West Coast to see him.
Sitting on a couch in Ms. Jessie’s San Francisco living room the night after she landed, Edmund asked her a question.
“How would you like to fly to California, to Los Angeles, to meet my sister … and get married?”
“I said ‘OK’ just like that,” she said. “And that’s what happened.”
They would be married for 65 years.
For the first year or so of their marriage, they would be apart. Edmund would see combat throughout the Pacific on board Navy vessels, but in the same month that the United States dropped the atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Edmund would be sent home and honorably discharged.
He had to wait in Washington, D.C., for his wife to be honorably discharged as well, as she had to serve until the end of the war plus six months.
They would form a life together after the war, having four kids, two boys and two girls. They started a handful of businesses together, including a house painting business. And, predictably, the fierce Green would insist on helping him with the work, often getting down low enough to paint the whole bottom perimeter of houses.
They then moved to California and started a successful courier business, before selling it and retiring. In their 65th year of marriage, Edmund would die.
Sitting now in her kitchen, Green still enthusiastically talks about everything she had experienced and seen. She talks about the boys who used to chase her until her husband came along, how much the Navy had been an enjoyable experience, all the jobs she had to hold to support herself.
While she does it, she occasionally touches or looks down at her ring, which she still wears every day. It seems like, despite her mother dying at a young age, becoming independent, serving in World War II, and creating an impressive life and business after the war, that meeting Edmund and making fun of him that night seems to be one of her most proud and fond memories.
Possibly because without her going over there, and initiating the conversation with a situationally humbled sailor, a lot of what she became wouldn’t be possible.
“I had no intentions of getting married,” she said of that trip she took to Los Angeles to be married. “But I didn’t hesitate at all.”