Georgetown woman made a splash with the WAVES in WWII
In May 1944, 22-year-old Gladys Brokhausen (then Gladys Sommer) reported to the Office of Naval Officer Procurement for testing to be accepted into the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, WAVES. Next door, Some men taking the officer’s test complained that the test was too hard. So five women, including Gladys, were recruited to take the test with them.
Gladys, now 93, remembers that back then “boys were taught higher math, history, geography, and science. Girls were educated to be housewives or secretaries. Our education focused on home economics, cooking, and sewing. . . .” Gladys, however, “read everything I could get my hands on, so I had a lot of knowledge and facts in my pointed little head.” She and the other four women “were among the first ten to complete the test, and all passed with flying colors. Later, I heard that we were used as an example to the men—and to shut them up!”
Thus began Gladys’s stint in WAVES.
Since she lived near Fort Knox, Gladys had considered joining the Army. “It seemed like all they did was desk jobs and drive trucks. I didn’t drive, and the Army’s uniforms weren’t all that attractive,” she says, so she joined the Navy. “When people asked why, I told them that I didn’t wear khaki underwear.”
Gladys reported to boot camp at Hunter College, New York. She remembers what was called the “daisy chain”: “We went from room to room, draped in a sheet. I was questioned by a psychiatrist in one room, a doctor in the next checked my heart, the one in the next checked my eyes, and so forth.” Gladys chuckles when she thinks back to that time. “I was a scrawny kid. I remember adults saying, ‘She’s a dear little thing. Too bad she won’t live to grow up.” She grew to be a healthy five feet, seven inches tall.
At Hunter, Gladys was told that she could have her choice of training assignments, but she had already made up her mind. She wanted to be a Link instructor. “A second cousin crashed into a mountain flying at night and was killed,” she says. “I wanted to prevent more young people from being killed.” Link Trainers were used to train pilots for instrument flying.
Link Trainer operator training took place at Naval Air Station, Atlanta, Georgia. “We learned the theory of flight, aneroid and gyroscope aircraft instruments, Morse code, aerology, air traffic control, FAA rules and regulations, and how to read a wiring diagram. They taught us to troubleshoot and repair the trainer,” Gladys says. From May to September 1944, Gladys rose in rank from enlistee to Third Class Petty Officer.
After Link operator training, Gladys reported to NAS Richmond, Florida, with a new nickname, “Linky.” NAS Richmond was headquarters for the Navy’s Lighter-Than-Air (LTA) program. “Blimps were needed to follow enemy submarines,” she explains, “but there were no pilots to train.” Her next assignment was NAS Pensacola, Florida, to 4-Mike, the PBY seaplane training squadron, where she finally got to use her skills. Two students she taught along the way were future astronauts Alan Shepard and Wally Schirra.
On V-E Day (May 8, 1945), Linky remembers a lot of celebrating. “A Marine climbed a flagpole in his skivvies with a bandolier and gun and fired into the air until he ran out of ammunition,” she laughs. On V-J Day (August 15, 1945), “they locked down the base to celebrating,” Linky says with an impish grin, “but I had smuggled a fifth of liquor. My little group of friends had fun.” Linky resigned from the Navy in October 1948.
Of her time in the Navy, Linky says, “I met some fine men and women. I went places, did things, learned things, and saw things that I wouldn’t have if I had been a quiet little mouse and stayed home. I can truly say I got an education in more ways than one. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it.”
One percent of 90,000 all enlistees qualified for Link operator training. Once trained, Link operators across the States worked with up to 4,000 pilots a day.
Read more about Linky’s experiences in the Navy in Cindy Weigand’s book Texas Women in World War II.