News: Former Navy WAVE, 91, Recalls Her Service
Story by Lt. Jennifer Cragg
WASHINGTON - As we celebrate Women's History Month, we reflect on the past generations that have served. One of those women, Dorothy Canty Forsberg, fondly referred to as "Dottie," celebrates her 91st birthday, March 15, and she recently recalled her experiences in uniform.
Dottie served in World War II as a member of the U.S. Navy's Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, known by the acronym, WAVES. She served in Washington for the Naval Headquarters in 1945, handling highly classified messages about the war to and from Navy Adm. Ernest J. King, who served as the ninth chief of naval operations from March 26, 1942 through Dec. 15, 1945.
Dottie entered the service in July 1941 as a commissioned officer, soon after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Her first duty station was at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla., where she served as a communications officer. Her husband, Gordon Harrington, also a World War II veteran, said that during Dottie's time at Jacksonville, she'd also served as a "courier on occasion, and the side arms caused the guys to sing 'Pistol Packin' Mama,'" a song by Al Dexter and His Troopers that was popular in that era.
After her first assignment in Jacksonville, Dottie reported to Washington for what she called a busy and grueling assignment.
"There were eight other girls that were communicators," she said. "We worked eight hours on, eight hours off, eight hours on. It was a grueling, difficult job. Everything had to be in code. So I learned pretty fast how to get it set up and run the machines."
Serving in the military was her whole life, Dottie said. "Pearl Harbor made a big difference to us, to the whole country, not just to the women in the Navy," she explained.
From her time in service during World War II and beyond, Dottie always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. She recalled meeting Eleanor Roosevelt at a tea party hosted at Louisiana State University, and meeting her again during the war. Roosevelt had arrived an hour early to the tea function. "We were all so frantic, because she was early and we weren't ready," Dottie recalled.
During the flurry of preparation for the event, an accident ensued, and Dottie saw first-hand the first lady's generosity. "I was going in and out of the kitchen door. It was a swinging door. I don't know why Eleanor was in the kitchen," recalled Dottie, who was carrying a huge punch bowl for the crowd who soon would be drinking tea with the first lady.
"She came out of one side of the door, and I came through the other side, and the punch bowl fell on the marble floor and it shattered into pieces," said Dottie, noting she was highly upset by the experience.
After the punch bowl shattered, Roosevelt politely escorted Dottie back to her dorm room to calm her. Little did she know that this chance encounter would lead to follow-on meetings Roosevelt during and after the war.
"I was on a plane and spotted Eleanor, and she sat right next to me," she recalled. "We were landing in New Orleans, and she said to me 'I will never forget the time we broke the punch bowl,' and I had no idea that she remembered me."
After the war ended, Dottie continued to play pivotal roles in later WAVES functions. She led the WAVES contingent in the funeral procession for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who died April 12, 1945.
Harrington added that after the war, Dottie was recognized for her time in service and her contributions to the nation. He added that both Army Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower and King presented Dottie with gifts which "were very publicly presented and had minimal monetary value, so it was clear they were personal recognitions of professional service," he said.
Harrington marveled that Eisenhower and King had sought out Dottie to present her with gifts to celebrate the end of the war.