Young Edith Pitzer stood at a bus stop near the University of Louisville considering her future in the spring of 1943. She was graduating with an undergraduate degree in chemistry and a minor in math.
“Uncle Sam Wants YOU,” said a nearby poster that caught her attention. The now-iconic signs were effective.
The next day, she told her family she planned to join the Navy.
“It was a glorious decision,” said Pitzer, a 96-year-old mother of six who takes pride in her contributions during World War II.
She and more than 100 other men and women — all World War II veterans — were feted at Memorial Auditorium June 6, the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy that marked a turning point in the war. The celebration, sponsored by Honor Flight Bluegrass, included food, patriotic songs and speeches.
Before the festivities began, Pitzer —neatly wearing her Navy uniform — shared a bit of her story with reporters. She became a junior grade lieutenant in the Navy, she said, and was sent to MIT — the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — to learn weather forecasting. She and about 60 other women, known as WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service), were trained in the field of aerology, the Navy’s term for meteorology at MIT during the war. All of the participants had backgrounds in science and math.
When they graduated from the nine-month program, the women were sent to Naval bases and training fields around the country. Pitzer said she served at six different bases on the East Coast. She had a critical job: Forecast the weather for pilots in training.
“We determined when they could go out — ceiling and visibility would have to be good. We were very conservative, especially with the young ones.”
By the time the war ended, she said, “I served two years, four months and 15 days.”
“I never had a moment of regret,” she noted, adding that she came close to questioning her decision just one time — when her sorority sisters saw her off at the airport terminal.
“They were having fun and I thought, ‘What have I done?’ ”
As it turned out, “I never thought about that again.”
“I liked that I was doing something you couldn’t do alone. You didn’t eat when you were hungry; you didn’t sleep when you were sleepy. But it was worth it,” she said.
Pitzer, a member of St. William Church, added that her favorite word is “grace.”
In addition to the June 6 festivities, Pitzer is one of more than 2,000 Kentucky veterans who have been treated to an Honor Flight in recognition of their service.
Honor Flight Bluegrass, part of a national network, honors World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans. The group’s volunteers fly veterans to Washington, D.C., where they have VIP police-escorted tours to each of their respective memorials, according to a news release from the organization.
Norma Lewis, another Navy veteran of the Second World War, has also been on an Honor Flight and attended the D-Day event last week. At just a week shy of 97, she still remembers the early days of the war and how it felt.
“Are we going to be successful?” she remembers asking herself. “It was really bad in the beginning. They were blowing up ships off our coast.”
“But it got better and better. We all did something important that needed to be done,” she said.
During the war, Lewis and her sister, Elizabeth Beattie, went to boot camp together and then were separated. They didn’t see each other again until the war’s end.
Her sister went to Pensacola, Fla., and trained pilots to cope with oxygen loss and compression.
Lewis’ orders took her to Charleston, S.C., where she worked in intelligence — tracking submarines from a base there.
After the war, Lewis went on to become a mother and an interpreter for the deaf community. Her face and hands are well-known to those who watch Mass of the Air on WHAS. Lewis, a member of St. Stephen Martyr Church, volunteered as an interpreter for the pre-recorded Masses for more than 40 years. She retired at the end of 2017.
All in all, Lewis said she’s proud of her service. But one thing saddens her.
“When we won, we all thought there would never be another war. We knew,” she added. “It’s sad.”