High Desert Resident Was One of the First Women To Serve in U.S. Navy:
—Son-in-Law Recounts Dorothy Blanchard’s Adventures 1943-1952
The following article was written for the Apache Plume by Wilderness Cañon resident, Bomi Parakh, about his mother-in-law Dorothy Jensen Blanchard, now age 97. Bomi, his wife Linda, and Dorothy moved to High Desert last year. From highdesertliving.net
By Bomi Parakh, Wilderness Cañon
On a warm August morning in 1943, a young woman from Milltown, New Jersey boarded a train to New York City. “All aboard!” the conductor yelled. As the train pulled out of the station, she noticed a tear in her father’s eye. Louis Theodore Jensen was sad to see his daughter go, but proud that his “Dart” was leaving to serve her country. Dorothy, as she was known to others, remembers the wonderful posters inviting young women to join the Navy; “Join the WAVES,” the posters said. “Your country needs you now.”
On her short trip to New York City, and then to Hunter College in the Bronx, Dorothy couldn’t have imagined that in a few short weeks, she would find herself in full naval uniform, looking much like the smiling, attractive, young women in the posters she admired.
A student dorm at Hunter College had been hurriedly converted to a modest residence for incoming WAVES. It would soon house some 20 nervous female applicants, from near and far, all wanting to become WAVES. Bunk beds, muster at the crack of dawn, beds to be made taut enough to bounce coins off, surprise inspections, marching in formation, tours of duty in the “spud-locker,” and one shared bathroom; there was no hint of any of this in those glamorous posters inviting women to become WAVES. The training proved too demanding for some; others didn’t make the grade. But not Dorothy. Once she decided to do something, there was no going back….just the kind of person the military was looking for during the war.
Top One Percentile
Within a few weeks, Dorothy was told she had successfully completed her training at Hunter College in the top one percentile. There was no need for more training.
Eleanor Roosevelt had been instrumental in creating the WAVES. It was only fitting that the First Lady would grace Dorothy’s platoon with a graduation salute.
Ceremonies aside, the country was at war; there was a job to be done. Allied merchant ships had to be routed, watched and protected along “safe conduct” Chief Petty Officer Dorothy served as routes in the Atlantic. A private secretary to Admiral Burke large wall-map decorated the naval intelligence office and showed the location of each merchant ship in transit. While others in her class were shuffled off to Stillwater for more training, Dorothy was asked to report for duty on Monday morning at the Merchant Shipping Intelligence Office.
In the little town of Milltown, life pretty much revolved around church and Dorothy, a brand new WAVE, 1943 family. The Great Depression had emphasized the importance of these two institutions. Now, the little girl from Milltown was becoming part of a new and larger family of the armed services. Before long, she was appointed private secretary to Admiral Arleigh A. Burke, U.S. Navy, handling all official naval correspondence, including top secret documents. “Loose lips sink ships,” they said during the war and Dorothy took note. Dorothy’s work gave her a front row seat when the National Security Act of 1947 was passed, and when the Air Force was created. Admiral Burke, or as he was known in the Navy, “31-Knot Burke,” was a central figure in the birth of the U.S. Air Force. It was a painful birth; the Navy had its aircraft carriers and the army had its Army Air Corps. Now, they had to be reassembled and reassigned. Dorothy was a witness to the transition.
Working for Admiral Burke, Dorothy began to realize that there were fewer limits on what she could achieve compared to her dear mother, Anna Genevieve Jensen. Like other pioneering women in the military, Dorothy was blazing a trail for other women to follow. These women would transform themselves, and in the process, they were transforming a nation.
In 1949, President Truman named John F. Floberg as Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Air. Secretary Floberg was a supporter of Admiral Rickover’s proposal to create a nuclear navy. Eight years her senior, Floberg graduated from the U.S. Armed Forces training center in atomic weapons at Sandia National Laboratories at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Dorothy was becoming Floberg’s right-hand for administrative duties. She edited speeches, and toured naval installations from Tunisia to Bermuda, Morocco to Scotland, and France to Newfoundland. Little did she know then, that later in life, she would move to Albuquerque, not far from the Kirtland Air Force Base where Secretary Floberg served.
A Fateful Day…
Valentine’s Day 1950 was a fateful day. It was raining hard. At a bus stop in Washington DC, Dorothy was waiting in her military issue raincoat. Two sailors heading to West Potomac Park asked if she needed a ride. The Nash they drove looked like a turtle. Dorothy would never accept a ride from strangers. But these were Navy men and she had learned to trust that family. She accepted the ride. One of the sailors was an aerographer. There was some polite chatter. They dropped Dorothy off at the
She thought nothing of that day; she had an important job in the Navy. The U.S. military had gained a commanding presence in the high seas. Dorothy felt at home in the Pentagon, and was working with officers just a few levels below the president of the United States. Unbeknownst to her, during the car ride months earlier, she had made a lasting impression on the aerographer in the Nash. He had been trying to locate Dorothy; it took him six months, but his persistence (and naval intelligence, he joked) paid off. The shy aerographer decided to follow his instincts and his heart to Dorothy’s doorstep. A little more than a year after they met, Dorothy Josephine Jensen and Earl Harrison Blanchard were married at a local church. It was a simple ceremony…just a few witnesses and the reverend. The length of a marriage, they say, is inversely proportional to the amount spent on the wedding. Dot and Doc were married for life.
In 1952, the Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland saw Hollywood legend Shirley Temple give birth to her son. In an adjoining room, Dorothy gave birth to a six-and-a-half pound baby girl. As was customary in those days, Dorothy had to leave the Navy when Linda was born. But Dorothy never really left the Navy. They say, “You can take the gal out of the Navy, but you can’t take the Navy out of the gal.” She promptly joined her husband in his naval tours of duty and meteorological adventures….first to London, then to Hawaii, and back to the U.S. mainland.
A Special Place
The Navy will always have a special place in her heart. Dorothy is quick to point out that some of the first cruise missiles against ISIS strongholds in Syria and Iraq were fired from the USS Arleigh Burke, a destroyer named after her mentor and hero. If she were a little younger (she is 97 now), she says she would go to war and serve her country all over again. Her friends and family believe it. They know she’s part of the “Greatest Generation.” She has fond memories of being in the military. These days it shows every time she gets a call from the Veterans Administration, the USAA or NFCU customer service representatives. “Is this Chief Blanchard?” they ask …and a smile spreads across her face.
After their service in the military, Doc and Dot settled in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Doc went to college on the GI Bill, and Dot got a job at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Yogi Berra said, “You have to give one hundred percent in the first half of the game. If that isn’t enough, in the second half, you have to give what’s left.” Dorothy Jensen Blanchard did that.
Dorothy is fond of saying, “God gives us memories so we have roses in December.” One rose in that bouquet has “Navy” stamped all over it.