OKEECHOBEE — Veteran Nedra Whitten Way was born in Princeton, Ind. She joined the service in 1957, when she was 18 years old. Her plan was to join the Navy, because that was the branch in which her dad, uncle and all of her family had served, but when she went to the nearest recruiting station, the Navy recruiter was out of town, so she joined the Air Force instead.
“From what I can remember, he was out of town for three weeks, and I didn’t want to wait three weeks,” she said. She hadn’t quite graduated from high school yet. She quit four weeks before graduation and took her GED test and aced it!
She said basic training for women was not the same as it was for men. They did not do sit-ups and push-ups, things like that; no running, hiking or carrying a pack. They did the same classroom work as the men did, though. She was given a gun one time, but she wasn’t supposed to have been given one. The minute they realized she had one, they took it away, she said. “We did learn to march, though.”
She was flown to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. “There were four or five of us going at the same time,” she said. “We had our basic at Lackland, and then I was stationed at Hamilton Air Force Base in California.” She was trained as a radar operator. “It was kind of like what you see in the old war movies,” she explained, “only instead of looking for submarines, we were looking for planes.” She spent part of her time stationed at Mather Air Force Base in California, because there were too many recruits at Hamilton.
While she was stationed at Mather, she got married, and at that time, they required women in the service to promise they would not have children. She refused to promise that, she said, so she left the service in 1960.
She said she would recommend joining the service to any young woman. She loved it. The only problem she experienced was she felt they were not fair to women back then. For one thing, she felt it was wrong for women to have to promise not to have children, but men were not asked to make that promise. She also had an experience once while out on a date. She and her date were with two other young men. She was not old enough to drink in town but could drink on the base. Her date bought alcohol. Two of the men were old enough to legally drink off the base and one was not. They were all caught drinking, and she was the only one who was court-martialed. She was charged with conduct unbecoming an airman. That was her first and only trouble with the law, she said. Her punishment was to lose a stripe and to sit on her bed at all times unless she was working for a month.
She and her husband Bill, who is her second husband, have been married for 57 years.
If you or someone you know is a veteran who lives in Okeechobee, Belle Glade, Pahokee, South Bay or Moore Haven and would like to share their story, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.