Ivah Ree Harris Coker
Ivah Ree was a country girl at heart, being raised in rural Monroe, Georgia, as one of seven children. She could out-preach any man of the cloth who came through the Mountain Creek Baptist Church where she belonged, and she sang in the choir in her off-key alto voice, ever searching for harmony. She also wrote for the local paper through the Baptist Church in her free time—a journalist in her own right who would write of recent news and noteworthy events.
Ivah Ree graduated high school in 1936 and promptly procured a job at a factory known as the “Pants Plant”. She worked there for six years to pay off her car loan and to receive a temporarily steady income. After such, at the age of 26 with WWII encroaching on the horizon, she decided to leave her town to join the WAVES Naval Reserve (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). Although she originally wished to be a flight attendant, she decided to join the armed services instead, as flight attendants were required to train as nurses at the time. She officially became affiliated with WAVES on August 12, 1943 and remained a member until November 21,1945.
WAVES was established by Lieutenant Commander Mildred H. McAfee, who became the first director of the organization, as well as the first woman commissioned under the US Navy. McAfee held an impressive academic background as the 7th President of Wellesley College, and because of such, training camps were decidedly set up on college campuses. In February 1943, the largest permanent boot camp for all enlistees became Hunter College in the Bronx. Six-week training sessions were established for all newly enlisting women including Ivah Ree, with new volunteers arriving every two weeks.
Ivah Ree’s rating in the Naval Forces was Specialist: Sp(Q)3c., a specialist third class. During her time working under WAVES, the other enlistees and herself were under oath to maintain strict secrecy even after cessation of hostilities, and there were extremely heavy penalties for violation. Her job involved communications; she would relay messages from station to station, often being kept in the dark on the message’s meaning or significance.
The events of Pearl Harbor shook the nation on December 7th, 1941, with Iva Ree included. She was on the East Coast at a friend’s house eating lunch on a Sunday afternoon when they heard the phone ring. They picked it up to hear the shocking and tragic news.
She had known a few men who were at the Harbor when the bombing began. One individual was Goldman Frase, a man who was possibly a sweetheart of hers. He had sent her Christmas cards for five years while he was away at sea, that she then saved for the rest of her life after the events of Pearl harbor.Later, in 1972, Ivah Ree visited the USS Arizona memorial with one of her daughters and became tearful as she looked at the sea. “Those men are still down there,” she remarked.
Once the war officially ended, Ivah Ree was one of the first to know. She copied the first White House press release when President Truman declared victory over Japan on V-J Day, August 15, 1945.
“There was a bomb,” she said. “The streets were mobbed, and the transportation shut down in Washington, DC, because the war ended that day. My roommates and I caught a ride in a private car.”
‘“Try not to get separated,’ she told her friends Coonce and Jennings, ‘or we’ll never make it back to the barracks.”
She remarked that, “Everyone was kissing everyone. One sailor came up to me and wanted to thank me for taking his job as a yeoman, so he could go to sea. He loved my southern accent and wanted me to talk to him. We kissed a few times. He said, ‘What do you want to do?’ I told him, ‘I like to dance.’ So, we danced in the street while the crowds rushed past us.”
When asked if she could have been in the famous kiss in Times Square photograph published in Life Magazine, she replied:
“Yes, any of us could have been.”
Submitted by Judy Benowitz, Ivah Ree Harris Coker's daughter