Van Winkle, Jerry

1st Class Petty Officer

US Navy


Pearl Harbor happened when I was a senior in high school. The WAVES were organized soon after that and I immediately wanted to join, but I was too young — so after graduation I went to work for the government. They sent me to school at the Illinois Institute of Technology and then to work inspecting armaments (75mm shells) etc., in Chicago and Michigan.

I spent over a year doing that work… waiting for my 21st birthday when I joined the Navy.

I went to Hunter College in New York for my basic training, that was six weeks, then I was sent to instrument school in Chicago to learn to repair and calibrate aircraft instruments: altimeters and gyros and automatic pilots. That course was three months.

When I graduated I was sent to the Naval Air Station on Norfolk, Virginia. That was closer to the war. We knew airplanes flew in and out of there to the war zones. My work there was to repair and calibrate instruments that were flown in from crashed or downed aircraft.

I worked on both altimeters and autopilots. We were located in the A&R, Aircraft and Repair, and worked with sailors. You knew the instruments came from crashed aircraft — sometimes when you opened them sea water would flow out — also some were bloody.

Besides the work, we performed all military work. I learned how to use a gun (revolver), completely take it down and put it back together again, had to jump off a high tower and tread water and then swim to the side. This was difficult for me because I am somewhat afraid of water but I passed. I attained the rank of 1st Class Petty Officer by passing all the requirements and tests.

When working in Chicago after the war, I joined the Naval Reserve at the Glen View Naval Air Station. That was interesting. I met my husband in the Reserve. They tried to teach me to fly Beach Air Craft, but I have a problem, can’t remain upright.

I enjoyed my time in the Navy. I made some wonderful friends. They were mostly from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Colorado and the south. We got together after we were out — they are gone now. I’ve spent some time with them, the last one I saw was 10 years ago — I now correspond with one of her children.