‘So many women who served’
Memorial Day signifies many things. It’s a day off from the daily grind, it is now safe to plant the garden without the risk of frost damage and you can dust off the grill for some outdoor cooking.
Memorial Day also is a time to honor the men and women who have served our country, particularly during times of war.
Bunny Ferrell spent most of her life in the Midwest. The Brainerd native returned to the lakes area to enjoy retirement.
But there was one summer many years ago that Ferrell left the comforts of home to join other women who served their country during World War II.
“There were so many women who served,” she said.
At the ripe old age of 16, Ferrell boarded a train with her two cousins and headed west. Ferrell’s cousins landed in Seattle and Ferrell went to work at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyards in Bremerton, Wash.
“When I think of it now I think, ‘How did my folks ever let me go?’” Ferrell said. “I was just a girl.”
Ferrell spent the summer of 1943 working the graveyard shift, from midnight to 8 a.m., repairing the U.S.S. California after it was damaged in the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor.
“The ships were all so big, and they were just in from war,” she said.
The California remained at Bremerton until January 1944 when it returned to battle in the South Pacific.
Ferrell lived with a friend from Brainerd whose family had relocated to Washington state. Both Ferrell and her friend, Serena, worked in the shipyards.
“She worked days and I worked nights, so as she was getting off work, I was just getting up for the day,” Ferrell said.
They did have weekends though.
Every Saturday night the girls went to the dance in Bremerton. Ferrell said she would often keep her coveralls — “farmerettes,” as she called them — in her locker at the shipyard and change after the dancing.
“Twice I called in sick so I could stay at the dance,” she said, “Oh, we had fun.”
Ferrell said her job on the ship was to grind down the bolts between layers of steel on the ship’s deck. Walking on the steel of the ship every night took it’s toll on the workers.
“My shoes got so worn, my friend’s dad had to re-sew them,” she recalled.
One night, a girl fell from the ship’s deck and was seriously injured. “That’s when they took the girls off the midnight shift,” Ferrell said.
While working on the deck, Ferrell met a girl from Anoka.
“It was a good reminder of home,” she said. “We had fun all summer.”
Ferrell also worked as a go-fer running blue prints for the officers and ship engineers. At one point she was responsible for testing the various compartments on the ship for air-tightness.
Ferrell worked on the California through most of the summer until the U.S.S. Enterprise arrived in Bremerton.
The Enterprise was just returning to Oahu, Hawaii, on the morning of Dec. 7 when Pearl Harbor was attacked. The ship served throughout the Pacific until sailing to Bremerton for an overhaul in 1943.
The Enterprise went on to be the most decorated World War II warship.
Ferrell worked two weeks on the Enterprise and spent most of her time suspended 30-feet off the ground painting the steel mesh on the ship’s stern.
“It was kind of like a hammock,” she said. “The guys wouldn’t crawl out there so they sent me.
“I was so daring in those days.”
After her summer in the Bremerton shipyards, Ferrell returned to Brainerd to finish high school.
Ferrell said she remembers many of her classmates being drafted to serve in the military before even finishing school.
“I would write to them every night,” she said. “It made it difficult to finish my homework.”
Ferrell’s own high school sweetheart, Robert, was drafted and after some health concerns served as a Merchant Marine. He traveled all over the world as a radio operator.
After the war ended the two married and lived in Iowa, with the intent to move back to Minnesota, while Bob finished college. “We ended up staying 17 years,” Ferrell said.
During the next few decades, the Ferrells slowly made their way back to Minnesota and eventually returned to Brainerd where they retired.
Bob passed away not long after they returned to Brainerd, but Bunny holds onto to the memories of her younger years.
“It’s always good to relive those days.”
SARAH NELSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5879.