In 1942, Zecil Gravitz had just graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in chemistry. She began work at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia researching “fluxes,” part of the process in building battleships. She would join the Navy WAVES in 1943, working at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and in Philadelphia as a chemist, and later as an expeditor.
Graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1946, Hudner was assigned to a cruiser north of Shanghai as a ship’s signal officer. Receiving his wings in 1949 he trained to be a pilot and was assigned to the carrier, USS Leyte. Hudner talks of the unrest leading up to the Korean War. In December 1950 he and his Fighter Squadron 32 were on a mission to attack “targets of opportunity” when a member of the Squadron was hit and crash landed. Jesse Brown, the first black aviator in naval history was at first thought dead but Hudner crash landed his own plane to save his friend. For this he was awarded the Medal of Honor. Hudner speaks eloquently about his comrades and how his military career affected his life.
Joyce Tartarini grew up in Natick and upon graduation from Natick High School, and inspired by JFK’s message to “ask what you can do for your country,” she and her twin brother enlisted in the Navy. Training as a corp-WAVE (medic) she was stationed in Charleston, S.C. After marrying she became a military wife and found that the wives were treated almost as second-class citizens. While her husband was serving in Vietnam she would receive threatening phone calls in the middle of the night. He finished his military service in 1980, and the couple moved to Florida. Their son served in the Navy and their grandson served in Iraq.
David Holly enlisted in the Navy in 1970 and although his background was in art, he was trained to be a medical corpsman. He served at the Chelsea Naval Hospital in Boston, then at the USMC base at Camp Pendleton, CA. There he trained with and provided medical assistance to Special Forces. After leaving the service in 1974 Holly went to nursing school and worked thirty years in the critical care unit at the Leonard Morse Hospital in Natick.
Upon graduating Natick High School in 1980, Jerry Eldredge Jr. decided to enter the military because college was not affordable. At boot camp in San Diego, he had to quickly get into shape to pass the physical requirements. Assigned to the USS Coronado, he was sent to Bahrain to stand ready for any acceleration in conflict in Beirut. Shortly after that he was transferred to the USS Tarawa, an immense helicopter carrier. Jerry spent two years on the Tarawa as a flight deck aviation refueler and a damage control petty officer and he mentions the numerous ports the ship visited. To his and the crew’s credit, their careful attention to their jobs proved successful in that they were not involved in any mishaps on the ship.
Two years into college, with a sense of patriotism and a longing to travel, Gary Donato decided to join the Navy – a decision that would bring him up the ranks from Nuclear Machinist Mate to Lieutenant in a twenty-two year career in the Submarine Force, spanning the Vietnam era through the Cold War. He recounts “war games” played with the Russians and speaks of the difficulties of losing shipmates to accidents and suicide. Under the guidance of a tough-minded Master Chief, Gary began as a machinist mate and through his career was able to take advantage of opportunities to further his education. This enabled him to take on leadership roles while on duty on the USS Sturgeon (SSN637), Pargo (SSN650), Rayburn (SSBN635), Russell (SSN687), Kamehameha (SSBN642), and Nevada (SSBN733).
When he was only 16, “Mannie” Witt convinced his parents to let him enlist in the Navy. He was assigned as a signalman to the USS Arkansas which, as part of a convoy of ships, participated in the Normandy Invasion at Omaha Beach and saw action at Iwo Jima, the ship’s target being Mt. Suribachi. Mannie witnessed from the mast the battles, the Kamikaze pilots and all the close calls. After the war, he was assigned to the USS Tennessee under Vice Admiral Jesse Oldendorf, who was in charge of the occupation of Southern Japan. He witnessed the devastation of Hiroshima and finished his tour of duty on the USS Appalachian, where he was discharged as a Signalman First Class.
As a Yeoman 1st class in the Navy during World War II, Kit Symonds performed clerical work in Key West, Fla., and Washington, D.C. She talks about her role in helping to find housing for servicemen and their families in Key West and about her experiences in boot camp in New York, which included singing with the Ray Charles choral group for two months.