Women’s History Month: Pauline ‘Polly’ Babbitt Smith — WAVES/ WWII Navy

Polly Smith volunteered for the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) during WWII to help her country.

This story is taken from my new book, We Defended Freedom: Adventures of WWII Veterans. Thanks to all of our vets for your service to our country.

Pauline ‘Polly’ Babbitt was a student at Nevada High School in December 1941 when the Japanese military dropped bombs on Pearl Harbor, starting a war with the U.S.

After graduation, Polly worked in an office for a company that made hair nets for women working in war factories. But she wanted to do more. In April 1945 Polly made a decision that didn’t please her parents — she joined the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service).

Despite her parents’ objections to joining the Navy, Polly was determined. The seventh of nine children living on a farm in Nevada, Iowa, she wanted to volunteer because she thought it was her duty to serve. She would be the only member of her family to do so.

Her oldest brother had had an accident on the railroad and could not serve. Another brother had diabetes. Other siblings were deferred or had other reasons for not fulfilling military service. “I wanted to help our country,” she said.

Polly’s two months of basic training were spent at Hunter College in New York City. One requirement of the female recruits was to make a bed according to military standards. The problem for Polly was her upper bunk – the underside was examined as well. She rarely passed inspection.

After struggling several times to achieve the desired results, Babbitt thought of an alternative – she slept in her raincoat on the top covers with her bunk. 

When basic training ended, the female recruits were asked for requests of their next assignment’s location. Polly listed the West Coast. When instructed to board a troop train, she had no idea of her destination.

She was somewhat disappointed to end up in Washington DC. Her assigned duties included working as a storekeeper in a ship’s store. “I ordered and sold items to Navy personnel,” she said.

One item of particular interest in her store’s inventory was French perfume. “The officers liked to purchase it for girlfriends and wives,” she said. She also stocked nylons for the WAVES, which were thick and heavy. Cigarettes, another popular item, sold for 10 cents a pack or $1.00 per carton.

First Class Seaman Polly Babbitt earned $66 per month while receiving free room and meals at the large WAVES headquarters.

With her curly blond hair and winning smile Polly got to know many soldiers and sailors. She was sad at watching them leave for overseas assignments. “When their letters stopped, I knew they were either dead, wounded or had found another girl,” she said. 

In September 1945 Polly met Army Sergeant James Lee Smith from Richmond, Indiana. ‘Jimmy’, as friends called him, worked for a general. In his off-time he played pool and gained such a reputation that he was given the moniker ‘Minnesota Fats.’ The two met in a bowling alley, a pastime they both enjoyed.

The WAVES quarters where Polly and hundreds of other women received room and board was located in downtown Washington DC.

Thirty days after meeting, the couple was in love. They planned to be married in December at a Lutheran church in Bethesda, Maryland. 

With little extra money, Polly was forced to borrow a friend’s wedding ring. Her commanding officer, friends and family provided extra funds for their small wedding. 

The Smiths were discharged from military service in March 1946. Polly wanted to stay in longer to receive a promotion, but she agreed with her husband to leave the military.

Due to the housing shortage, they lived with family for a while before moving to Chicago. Polly worked as a waitress at the Conrad Hilton Hotel downtown, earning money for Jimmy to attend East Coyne Electrical School. In 1957 they moved to Muncie, Indiana, where Jimmy accepted a position in the computer center of Ball State University. They were marred for 56 years.

Polly Babbitt Smith’s story can be found in We Defended Freedom: Adventures of WWII Veterans.

“Serving in the Navy made me appreciate what our country was going through to win the war,” said Polly. “I wouldn’t want to go through it again, but I wouldn’t take any money for it. Meeting my husband while serving in the military made it even better.”

Polly’s dedication to our nation is highlighted along with several other women in my new book, Women of WWII Coloring Book. It is available on Amazon.

Women of WWII Coloring Book is available on Amazon.

The End

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