Local News

Rocky Mount woman recalls WWII Navy days

Posted April 17, 2012 1:49 p.m. EDT
Updated April 17, 2012 2:04 p.m. EDT

— When the final Triangle Flight of Honor takes off Wednesday, it will carry veterans such as 90-year-old Janice Gravely, who was the only woman to hold her position in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

Gravely, of Rocky Mount, served on board a Naval Air Station in Olathe, Kan., and Dallas, Texas.

"My duty was to carry a sidearm," she recalled. "Here I was, a 22-year-old pip squeak with authority."

Gravely was an aide to an executive officer and the official hostess in charge of visiting dignitaries.

When a planeload of Russian officers came to visit, she was their hostess, even though she couldn't speak their language. "All these Russians following me around like chickens," she remembered.

Life magazine did a story on Gravely and captured her good looks in glamour shots. But there was another reason the magazine covered her story.

"No other enlisted woman had this job. In the whole of the U.S., just I had this authority, but I didn't know it then," Gravely said.

Maybe the best thing to happen to her, though, Gravely says, was meeting her husband, naval aviator Ed. After the war, they moved to Rocky Mount, where he worked in the tobacco business.

"We were married until he died in 1982," she said.

Gravely said she has had a rich, full life and has no regrets. She is a great-grandmother, an author and a new painter. Her work hangs in a local art gallery.

On Wednesday, she will be on the last Triangle Flight of Honor, which takes veterans on a day trip to visit monuments in Washington, D.C. The trip is free to veterans and paid for by donations.

"WWII vets are dying, 50,000 a day. So many of my friends have died. This is the last trip they are going to create," Gravely said.

The public is invited to welcome the veterans home when the Flight of Honor returns to Raleigh-Durham International Airport at 8 p.m. Wednesday.