BRIGHAM CITY — World War II veteran LoRae Unger arrived at a New York state Navy WAVES boot camp just months before the German army surrendered to the Allied Forces.
“I just got into uniform when the Nazis gave up. I guess I scared them,” said the 87-year-old Unger, who on April 15, 1944, her 20th birthday — the day she became eligible — enlisted in the United States Navy WAVES.
The California native, who came to live in Brigham City through marriage and a business she and her late husband had established there, served in the Navy for about 18 months. She was sworn in by then-U.S. President Harry S. Truman.
Most of Unger’s time was spent at Naval Air Station Banana River, north of Satellite Beach, Fla., before she was formally discharged in 1946.
“They didn’t put us overseas,” she said of the women who joined the Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service).
At Banana River, Unger said, she served as an instructor for combat crews stationed there.
“I showed films. That was about it,” said Unger, one of about 100 women among 10,000 men stationed at the base at the time.
The films trained combat crews on how to identify various ships and planes the crews might come in contact with, Unger said.
But before her days of operating a film projector at Banana River, the Brigham City resident was part of a singing platoon during her stay at Hunter College in New York, where Navy WAVES attended boot camp.
Hunter College, now known as Lehman College, was in the Bronx. During the war it was commandeered by the Navy to serve as its WAVES boot camp. There, about 2,000 women every six weeks would attend the camp to receive basic military training.
It was during her stay there, Unger said, that she became part of a platoon that performed throughout the New York area in an effort to raise money for war bonds. She said she can still recall singing in New York’s Times Square at a war bond rally.
“World War II female veterans are rare,” said Terry Schow, director of the Utah Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
There are about 30 living female World War II veterans in the state of Utah, said Gina Painter, Women Veterans Program Manager with the VA Salt Lake City Health Care System.
It was out of a love for her country, Unger said, that she served in the military. She hopes sharing her story will put her in touch with other women who may have served during the same period.
So many of the World War II veterans are dying, Unger said, and she has lived such an interesting life, she would like to share her experiences with others.
“I was 16 when the war started on Dec. 7, 1941. I’ll never forget that day,” Unger said of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. “It was frightening. We lived in California, and we had blackouts.”
The bombing of Pearl Harbor was one of the biggest reasons she eventually enlisted in the Navy, said Unger, who was doing defense work on radar systems when she eventually joined the WAVES.
“I was just a kid when it started,” she said of the war.
“Those boys that were going over (to fly) were just kids,” said Unger, who married twice after the war.
Her second husband, Cody Unger, an Army Air Force veteran, is buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
“I love the nation,” Unger said, “and it is kind of upsetting what is happening to it.”
Unger said that to make this nation great, its leaders need to live more in accordance with the Ten Commandments, and the public needs to take a greater interest in voting.