Passing of a WAVE
(American Legion Post 204 "Service Girls")
Story and photos by Elizabeth Bissett
Our oldest World War II WAVE veteran, Wavie Smyer, passed away Feb. 8 at the age of 101 in her home surrounded by her loving family. Wavie had been a member of our American Legion post for 37 years. Many of us didn't know her well, some had never met her. Several of us played a supportive role before and after her passing. I felt compelled to share our story.
Our Post adjutant, Beth Shepard, received the call in early January. Wavie Smyer, our oldest World War II Navy veteran, was not doing well. Her daughter-in-law had recently received our post's monthly newsletter and reached out to us to let us know that Wavie's time was drawing to a close.
During our January meeting, Beth made the announcement. Wavie, at the age of 101, was in her last days. Beth and our post commander, Carrol Stripling, asked our members to please visit Wavie and her family if we could. One of our Navy veterans, Jenn DiCamillio, eagerly volunteered.
Jenn contacted the family and soon thereafter visited them and Wavie. They looked at photos, flipped through Jenn's Bluejacket Manual and shared sea stories. Best of all, Jenn brought Wavie chocolates.
A few days later, I made the hour drive to visit Wavie and her family. Jenn met me there with hot chicken and potato salad for the family. Wavie's son, daughter-in-law and two of her grandchildren shared numerous stories with us about Wavie and her time in the Navy. They showed us various keepsake items including a newspaper article, preserved all these years, about Frank Sinatra singing to Wavie and an amazingly calm group of WAVES. Wavie told us the story of how she had met her husband while on liberty and also showed us the newspaper article about Frank Sinatra. Her eyes sparkled and she giggled about secret things only she knew. She shared her chocolates with me and insisted that I eat more than one while I sat on the floor listening to her stories. At one point, Waive took my hand and wouldn't let go. I felt like I was holding the hand of history.
It was very difficult to leave as I knew it would be the first and last time I was to see her. That was Feb, 1; by the 8th, she was gone.
The family contacted Jenn and she in turn contacted the other post members.
A flurry of activity ensued as more post members picked up the numerous tasks to prepare for Wavie's funeral. Jenn coordinated with the funeral home, being a liaison between it and the grieving family. She also arranged for active-duty Navy to attend the funeral in uniform.
Carrol contacted the VFW to arrange for the Honor Guard and the National Guard to arrange for the bugler.
The family wanted to honor Wavie's military service by displaying her actual uniforms at the funeral, but the patches and buttons had mysteriously disappeared sometime during the last 65 years. Kelli Matzen and Jaci Goo, our sergeant-at-arms, creatively located patches. Kelli, who had never met Wavie, actually cut the buttons off her own pea coat and walked two miles in a gusty rainstorm to deliver them to Jaci in time! After much consideration, I posted her passing on Facebook.
Eight of us were able to attend Wavie's funeral. Carrol, Jaci, Beth, Isreal Thompson-Filip and Jenn helped to escort Wavie's casket to its place under our flags. Ellen Freeman and I took photos as unobtrusively as possible.
The Honor Guard shot their weapons, the empty shells making the all-too-familiar hollow sound as they hit the pavement. The bugler played Taps, bringing tears to the eyes of those attending.
The draped flag was ceremoniously removed, folded and presented to the family. Wavie was given her final salute and we each placed a rose on her tiny coffin and offered support to her family before we dispersed.
Later, I contacted the family and extended an invitation from the post to attend Wavie's Post Everlasting Ceremony, which they wholeheartedly accepted. Wavie's son, his wife and their four children honored us with their presence. Ellen gave the photos that she had taken at the funeral to the family. Jenn wrote a very touching letter of remembrance which Carrol read aloud before she and the other officers performed the Post Everlasting Ceremony.
Wavie, like all female servicemembers, had an unknown butterfly effect on all of us who followed the same path.
Our post is honored to have had her with us for so long and to have her forever be part of our history.
Wavie, We Salute you!