ROANOKE, Va. – Women can now serve in every branch of the military but that wasn’t always the case.
“I was the first 18-year-old to enlist in the WAVES in September,” said 87-year old Jean Ridenhour, who remembers her decision to join very well when she was graduating from Jefferson High School in Roanoke. “During World War II my mother’s cousin came to visit us and she was in the Army and I thought ‘That uniform really looks nice.’ Then I kept thinking about when I was ready to graduate what I wanted to do. I wanted to go to college. I knew the only way I could was maybe enlist in the service. I kept looking at the uniforms and I decided I liked the Navy one better.”
As a Navy communication technician second class for the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES), she spent time in Washington D.C. but can’t tell us what she did.
“I worked at the NSA and thought ‘I’m too close to home',” said Ridenhour.
She added on one more year of service and moved to Hawaii, serving during the Korean War.
“It was sad because sometimes in Honolulu I would go to the cemetery. You would hear taps almost all day. They were bringing bodies back from Korea. It was just a sad experience for me thinking about what these men we’re going through and the nurses that were working there,” said Ridenhour.
But there are plenty of good memories too. Her brother is 18 months younger and followed her into the Navy.
“One of the highlights is when I was in Hawaii, his fleet came through. There were three ships. I was watching and my brother ran off the ship and they called him back because he forgot to salute the flag. That was an awesome experience just having a fun time with him,” said Ridenhour.
She says going on an honor flight and visiting the Women’s Memorial in D.C. where she’s a charter member was one of the highlights of her life.
For this Navy Veteran, serving our country is not something she takes lightly.
“I didn’t really think much about it when I first went in and then I began to realize the importance of protecting our nation. I felt my job was very important. I would like to be a role model for other people in the service and those not in the service,” said Ridenhour.
She continued serving when she got out of the Navy and went to school on the GI Bill in Hawaii.
She moved back to Roanoke, where she taught school for 27 years finishing at Monterrey Elementary School.