Skip Navigation and Jump to Page Content    The Library of Congress >> American Folklife Center  
Veterans History Project (Library of Congress) ABOUT  
SEARCH/BROWSE  
HELP  
COPYRIGHT  
Home » Text Transcript

Interview with Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher [2/24/2010]

James Lyko:

Good afternoon. My name is Jim Lyco. I am here in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, on February 24, 2010, to interview Barbara Dannaher, retired U.S. Navy, I guess; is that correct?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Not retired, Jim.

James Lyko:

Okay. But that was your branch of the military?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

But, formerly.

James Lyko:

Formerly.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Yeah.

James Lyko:

I'm here to interview Barbara for the Veteran's History Project at Central Connecticut State University an Archive Partner of the Library of Congress. It is a privilege and an honor to interview Barbara. So please, Barbara, would you please tell us your story.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Certainly, Jim. And it's an honor for me to be here too. I was born in Boston, actually, in Boston -- Dorchester, Massachusetts -- on November 23, 1920. And I -- at the age of four, I think -- we moved down to a suburb on the South Shore. East Braintree. And I attended school in Weymouth at Sacred High School from first grade up through high school. And after I graduated from high school my family moved to Manchester, Connecticut, where my father actually was born. And he had relatives there. But his company had transferred him to Hartford, so we were living in Manchester. And I worked at a few jobs when I got out of school. I loved being with my cousins. And eventually went to work for United Aircraft as a clerk. And I worked for the subcontractor division there under Reed Miller, who was a fine gentlemen. And he was also vice president of the Missouri Aircraft, because some of these companies moved to the central part of the United States because of the war. And I was going quite steadily with a young man, Thomas Dannaher, who we became quite serious before he enlisted in the Marine Corps in February of 1942. And our first date was December 7, 1941.

James Lyko:

Okay.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

So we always could remember that.

James Lyko:

You will never forget that date.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Right. And so after Tom left Paris Island, the others in our group, young people -- the men were leaving because they were either enlisting or being drafted -- the girls were very active doing all kinds of things: Knitting and so forth. I felt that I was doing a good job because I was working for the Aircraft, and they were providing machines and the airplanes and everything else for the war. But I felt I wasn't doing enough. And there were quite a few advertisements on radio about the military. And they had started some women's organizations like the Army women. And then I heard an advertisement on the radio that said that the Navy was going to have women accepted for volunteer emergency service. And, of course, that acronym being, WAVES. And I thought, this is what I would like to do.

James Lyko:

What is the year now? Is that 1940?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

This was 1942. And it was probably around the summertime. And I knew that it was important -- the work I was doing for the Aircraft was important. I realized that. However, I was filing. And it seemed like it was a job that wasn't quite the kind of job I wanted.

James Lyko:

Absolutely.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

And so I talked to my mother and dad. My dad was just bursting with pride. He thought that was great. My mother, a little bit more reticent. I was an only child. So having her daughter, her only daughter, going into the military, she wasn't quite sure. So and, of course, it was unheard of, of women being in the military.

James Lyko:

Right.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

So I knew that I was going to have to have a release from the Aircraft. And I went to the secretary and tried to -- I didn't really want to approach Mr. Miller because he had a big job, and I was just a little person. So I went to Margaret and I asked her if she would intercede for me. And she said, Oh, sure. And she said, Oh, Barbara, don't be upset. She said, Mr. Miller is fine. He'll understand. So I was called into his office and shaking in my boots. And he was such a nice man. And he kind of frowned and he looked at my application. And he said, well, Ms. Brennan, he said, you've been working with us now for several months, and you feel that you can do a better job for the whole war effort by going into the WAVES? I said, well, ah, ah -- not knowing exactly what to say. He said, well, let me tell you, he said, I've given it a lot of consideration. And he said, I think, somehow, the Aircraft is going to be able to make it without your services. And so that was very nice of him. And, of course, the humor kind of relieved everything.

James Lyko:

How old were you at that time, Barbara?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

At that time I was 21. And I was -- oh, it didn't take me very long to get on a train and go down to New York. And I can't remember the name of the street. I think it was Hall or something. It wasn't Wall Street. It was one of the streets off of Wall Street. The Navy had its Headquarters down there. And I went in and filled out a few forms. And I raised my right hand and promised to support the Constitution. And I was in the Navy.

James Lyko:

Oh, my. Did you do that alone? Or did you -- or were you --

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

I had a girl friend with me. And she took the boat to go around the Statue of Liberty. I couldn't get her to join with me. And so, yes. I went into the office alone. Yes. And there were a number of others that were sworn at the same time. So I went home and told my dad and mom that I was in, and the Navy would notify me when I had to go on active duty. So the next couple of months were one of celebration, sort of, and kind of preparing. And since I had a lot of friends up in Massachusetts, they always wanted to entertain me before I left.

James Lyko:

Sure.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

And so I enjoyed that.

James Lyko:

Yeah.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

And my father said, we never see you on weekends. You're always up in Weymouth. And, fortunately, the girls' mothers were very happy to have me as a guest, which was very nice of them. But I had an opportunity for one weekend and it sounded like it was going to be great weekend. It was the weekend of November 28, 1942. And the girls had set this beautiful date up for me because there was going to be six of us. And the young man had a nice Cadillac convertible, which, of course, you know, was quite the thing at the time.

James Lyko:

Sure.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

And the six of us left for the Boston College and Holy Cross game at Fenway Park. And then I was told that we had reservations at the Coconut Grove that evening for dinner and, I understood, dancing. And since I really loved to dance, I thought this was going to be wonderful. And the following day I was treated to a stage show in Boston. And the weekend was just going to be a great weekend. Something that young people would look forward to. And so we went to the game. I don't think Boston College had lost one game that season and Holy Cross beat them. Of course, we were crushed because we were with the Boston College group. And we, after the game, we drove over to the Coconut Grove. Parked the car in the parking lot there. And we were ushered -- we had reservations -- and we were ushered into one of the newest bars that the Coconut Grove had. The Coconut Grove seemed to have a number of small bars off the main part of the club. And we were rather disappointed because there was a piano player there and that was it. That was the entertainment. And none of us were drinkers. And, I mean, if you have one drink, you nursed it the whole evening and maybe have a lot left over. But it was kind of disappointing. And having lived in Boston, or rather in the suburb, at that age, I had attended the Mayfair Club across the way. So I suggested to the group that maybe we could move over there. We hadn't had dinner or anything. And so they were kind of reluctant, in a way, because at least they had a table where we were. But I said, I have a friend who has a neighbor who works there, so maybe we can get a table. We went over there. No luck. So what to do? We went back to the Coconut Grove, or down to the Melody Lounge. And it was so dark. They have a spotlight on the piano player that was up behind the bar. And so many military. Just maybe 10 deep around. Just all standing. Very few tables. It was very dark down there. It was all lined with black fabric. And I saw this man reach up and unscrew a lightbulb. And I thought to myself, it's dark enough in here, you know, what is wrong with -- well, we couldn't find a place, and we weren't satisfied. So someone suggested we crash the Holy Cross celebration up at the Palmer House. So we got in a cab and off we went. Well, it was kind of dull up there because it didn't seem to be much of a celebration, but they had a lot of food. So we enjoyed it. And at that time we could hear a lot of sirens. So we decided to go back to the Grove and take the car and drive down to the South Shore and find a place that we knew of that we could have dinner. So the taxi cab driver said, the Coconut Grove is on fire. And he said, is your car parked there? And it was. He said, my suggestion is, you get down there to that car and get it out of the parking lot before the fire engines get in there. Well, he let us off. And as we walked toward the parking lot, there were people walking away from the Grove who were almost like in a dream. They were just so --

James Lyko:

They had gotten out in time.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

They had gotten out. But they just couldn't believe what was going on. And it seemed like the building behind us, the Coconut Grove building was bursting. It was almost like it was something like dynamite, you know. And later on we came to the conclusion it was probably a lot of the sodas and the beer and everything that was under pressure. And, of course, when the fire hit that. But there was not one person in that bar where we had been that got out alive.

James Lyko:

Wow.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

So that was a very sad time. And I was happy to be able to call my parents the next day and say, yes, I was at the Coconut Grove, but here I am. And I am fine. So December 12th I was notified to appear at Grand Central Station to board a troop train for Cedar Falls, Iowa, to Iowa State Teacher's College for my initial training. We had a very nice group of people who were lined up. We had to go on the train by alphabetical order. And there was a, let's say, a very experienced Seaman -- well, he wasn't a Seaman, he was a Chief -- who was checking off the names. But I'm sure that he had at least 25 or 30 years in the service. And he was not very, let's put it, I don't think he was unhappy having girls that he had to check off. But he was kind of -- he didn't know whether we liked this very much or not. So anyway, my mother and father and other parents were standing over at the side as he called our names. Well, of course, my maiden name is Brennan. And I was one of the first ones that was called to go aboard the train. But instead of having us go aboard, he had all of our suitcases taken. And he asked us to line up according to the name -- to the way we were called. And then we would proceed on to the train sort of in line. And so he kept calling the names off. Finally, he got to this one name. And the name was "Darling." And that's the girl's name. And he said, Darling? And she said, Yes.

James Lyko:

{Laughter}

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

{Laughter} Get in line. But, anyway, that was a beautiful train. Oh, we had the best accommodations. I think we did have berths. But, I mean, everything was beautiful. A nice dining car. We had good food. And we traveled, strangely enough, from New York up to Niagara Falls. We went over to Canada. We traveled across Canada, well, as far as -- we came down into the United States and crossed the Mississippi River. And then through Chicago and on to Waterloo, Iowa, where we left the train and boarded buses into Cedar Falls, which was a charming small town --

James Lyko:

Yeah.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

-- with a big school and 1,050 enlisted WAVES. And this was the first group of WAVES, enlisted WAVES. We had WAVE officers. But these were -- we were the first group of enlisted WAVES. And our training was for six weeks at Cedar Falls. And it was a -- they had no students in the school at that time. They had emptied the school of all the students. It was a beautiful school. And we had very nice accommodations. I roomed with a girl from New York. And, yeah, she was from New York. And we would march from our rooms to meals. And, of course, we had several different sittings for the meals because we were a large group. And, of course, in that time we had shots, hair cuts, we were measured for uniforms. And, by the way, the WAVE uniform was designed by a very famous French designer, Mainbocher. And they had fit just so, which made us very proud. And we were issued two woolen suits, dark blue. Navy blue. And we were issued a raincoat, a purse, a white shirt for dress, a blue shirt for work, and a black tie. And that was about it. We also had inspection. And inspection of our rooms, as well as inspection of ourselves. Once we got into uniform, we were inspected just about once a week. But room inspection was Saturday morning. And we were cautioned: Go over with a white glove if you have one. If not, a white towel. And check everything in your room, because when the Captain comes in he's going to check everything with a white glove. And he will have a Yeoman with him. And if he isn't satisfied, you're on report. So we wanted to be very careful. And we would work Friday night until long after we were supposed to be in bed making sure our room was right. Well, we had a desk, a good-sized desk. And the two of us at one time said, you know, this desk should be sort of turned, and I think we would get better light. Because we had a lot of courses that we were attending, and we had homework and all. So we twisted the desk. And we looked at the rest of the furniture. We had bunk beds. And everything seemed in very good order. The Captain came in. They went over everything with the white gloves. And he started out the door and he said, everything in here is okay and shipshape but get that desk squared.

James Lyko:

{Laughter}

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

{Laughter}

James Lyko:

So much for your decorating.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

So much for decoration. It was a very interesting time when we were at school. We could go into Waterloo on Saturdays. And for a dollar we could have a steak and all the trimmings. And, of course, in Iowa, steak, it was fresh steak.

James Lyko:

I'm sure.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

It was great. And the only thing is, by that time, we had assignments. And one of my assignments was to see that the same number of girls got on the bus that got off the bus in Waterloo. Another one of my assignments was, as we were getting shots during the day and medical exams and all, if anyone passed out in the mess line, it was up to me and one other person to drag the person --

James Lyko:

Out of line.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

-- out of line and then see that she got attention. So we did have a few fainters.

James Lyko:

{Laughter}

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Well, you know, we had a lot of shots, and we were vaccinated. Everything was taken care of. But then at the end of six weeks we had lists of assignments.

James Lyko:

What kind of classes were you taking? You said you were taking --

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

We were taking Naval history.

James Lyko:

Okay.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

We were taking, the kind of -- we were never given any kind of training with guns or anything like that, because the WAVES were never allowed to go overseas, as a matter of fact. And that's the way we liked it. And we had a mentor, so to speak -- or champion, maybe that's the better word -- in David I. Walsh from Massachusetts, who stood up for us when, I guess, Congress was thinking probably since the Army women went over, that the WAVES may go over also. And we didn't want to. So he stood up for us in Congress and said we would stay. The reason most of us joined the Navy, well, one of the reasons, was to free a man to go to sea. We could do the kind of work that he was doing, most of us could. And most of the work that they were doing could be done by a woman. So that was one of the reasons that the WAVES, for the most part, joined that particular branch of the Navy. It was -- our assignments were going to be posted. And, of course, we were all very concerned about where we were going. So I went down to look for my name, and I found it on two assignment sheets. One assignment sheet was, they were going to send me out to Norman, Oklahoma, to read blueprints. And the other assignment sheet was to go to Washington, D.C. And it didn't say what I was going to be doing. So, of course, I liked the idea of Washington because it was near our home. Because as fast as -- as quick as I was to leave home, I was just as quick to get back there. And so it was one of those things. So I did go to the Officer of the Day. And she said they would check that out and find out. And I would be notified as to where I should be assigned.

James Lyko:

You didn't have a choice between the two?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

I had no choice.

James Lyko:

They were going to make the decision?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Oh, they made the decision. As a matter of fact, when I read it at first I thought, does the Navy know something about me I don't? And that is, I can be in two places at one time. And, no. They came back to next day and told me I would be in Washington. And, relief. That was great. And we had a six-day leave. We could go home.

James Lyko:

Oh, nice.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

And it was lovely. And we were sort of encouraged to buy our tickets and go on our own and pay for our tickets and then be reimbursed when we arrived at our assignment. So most of us did. We did not have the lovely accommodations, believe me, because we all wanted to be frugal and maybe make a little bit of money on it because they would pay a certain amount. So I got home. Spent five days enjoying my family and friends. And my future mother-in-law -- who I was very friendly with -- decided to go into Hartford with me, because I had to go by bus and my mother worked. And so she didn't want me to go alone. And helped me with my baggage and all and took me to the station in Hartford. And that was just wonderful and so very nice of her. And for that good deed, unfortunately, on the way home that evening -- she rode in the car of the Ride Share that her husband had -- and there was an accident. And it crushed the bone on her ankle. And so it was never the same after that. She almost lost her foot, as a matter of fact. And I felt terrible about it. So can we take a break?

James Lyko:

Absolutely.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Is it to soon?

James Lyko:

No.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

I'm tired of talking. [A break was taken]

James Lyko:

Did you travel with your uniform on?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Yes. We were told when we left boot camp, so to speak, that we were to always be in uniform. There was no -- no letup. None. Even when we went home on leave we were to wear our uniform. So that's what I did. And, of course, I was proud to wear it. I loved the uniform.

James Lyko:

Sure.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

The only thing is, we were rather disappointed, those of use who were enlisted WAVES, that our hat wasn't quite as stylish as the officers'. Our hat was a sailor hat.

James Lyko:

What did it look like, Barbara?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

All right. I have the hat.

James Lyko:

Yeah.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

And -- oh, thank you, Jim. And I have turned the brim up for so long that it's really out of shape now. But it was a very -- the top unbuttoned so that it could be taken off.

James Lyko:

Yeah.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

And it could be washed and kept nice and clean. And, of course, on the front we had U.S. Navy.

James Lyko:

Hold it up a little higher so we can see it.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

All right.

James Lyko:

Okay.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

We had U.S. Navy. And it was not the most poplar hat going. But, actually, after awhile you got so that you kind of got used to it.

James Lyko:

But that was -- you had that on when you were --

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

I had it on. But my head has gotten larger.

James Lyko:

It looks great on you.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

But then later on, because I think there were a lot of complaints, we got the garrison cap. And, of course, this was more stylish.

James Lyko:

You make me want to salute.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

{Laughter}

James Lyko:

And what was that? How did you get the different hat? Did someone along the line -- I mean, were there complaints about the other hat and --

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Evidently --

James Lyko:

-- they paid attention to that?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

-- a few complaints reached the higher-ups.

James Lyko:

Okay.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

And they were ready to --

James Lyko:

And someone heard it.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

That's right.

James Lyko:

And things changed. Okay.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

When we arrived -- when I arrived in Washington, I was assigned, first of all, to go to the Navy Yard. They never said we would go straight to our office. We were to go to the Navy Yard. So we went to the Navy Yard and there we expected to be reimbursed for the trip that we took from Waterloo -- Cedar Falls, Iowa, home. And then back down to Washington. Well, come to find out the government never pays for train trips over certain parts of the country that is designated as: Land grants. And so by the time we got reimbursed it was not quite what we expected.

James Lyko:

Oh, my. Surprise. Surprise. Yes.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

So, anyway, that was one of the things that we sort of said: Uh-oh. Well, now we're on the Navy case for our travel. Anyway, it was fine. But then there were some of us who were assigned to Nebraska Avenue -- not Nebraska Avenue. I'm sorry. We were assigned to the Navy Department on -- right downtown Washington. I think it was -- I'm not sure. I don't know whether it was on Pennsylvania Avenue or one of those. But, anyway, that's where our assignment was. But before that our billet would be at the national -- at the Capitol Park Hotel. And that was on South Capitol Street right across from Union Station, which was a great central place to be -- and -- but because we were walking everywhere or taking mass transport. So the next day we were to arrive at the Navy Department ready to go to work. Before we were even allowed to go to the office, our desk, anyplace, we had to take an oath because we were going to be working on top secret materials.

James Lyko:

So you're hearing this for the first time, right?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Yes.

James Lyko:

Your assignment?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Yes. So we swore not the divulge any information, to the grave. This has changed since then. But I'll explain that later. We were sent to offices. And the offices were very crowded. These buildings were put up during Word War I. And the Navy Department really didn't have any place like the Army did at the Pentagon. So they were sort of spread out all over the city. And, but, this was the main office. We worked there for several months right into the spring. I had two roommates. Very interesting young ladies. One was Natalie Fiske, F-i-s-k-e. Her grandfather was president of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. And she was assigned to Nebraska Avenue as I was. And she was instrumental in introducing me around town. And we were taken out to lunch one time at the National Press Club. And the man who was manager of the Metropolitan, evidently -- in Washington -- had visited with Eleanor Roosevelt, previously. And, of course, he had a lot to tell us about that. And she was a very interesting girl, herself. She was brought up not in the United States. She was brought up in Paris. I don't know why. Her father was evidently employed there. My other roommate was very active in France with the State Department. She was a clerk. But she ended up, before she came to the United States, a secretary to Admiral Leahy's wife. And she was a good friend of Robert Murphy. And I don't know if you are familiar with the situation. But Robert Murphy and Mark Clark did a lot of undercover work in France before the -- oh, what's the word I want to use -- before we went into Normandy.

James Lyko:

Yeah. Going across the Channel.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Yes.

James Lyko:

The invasion.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Yes. The invasion. And so she would not -- she was not cleared to work with us at --

James Lyko:

Okay.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

-- Nebraska Avenue. Well, she had a lot of friends. And it was one of those things. We didn't know. No one told us anything. Nor did we really want to know.

James Lyko:

Yeah.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

We were very, very aware of secrecy and how it could be very dangerous for all of our military, all of the people involved in the war effort, if anyone divulged anything. And just discussing things in public, like a restaurant or a soda fountain or someplace, you knew enough to just keep your mouth shut about anything that went on when it was related. So we were -- Natalie and I on occasion did travel, because we had a long way to travel once they -- in the spring when they transferred our offices up to Nebraska Avenue.

James Lyko:

Yeah.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

We took over the -- the Navy was able to procure the beautiful buildings that had belonged to the Mount Vernon Young Ladies' Seminary. And it was a gorgeous building. Lovely grounds. And an attached chapel where we used to have our religious -- we had Protestant and Catholic services there. And I'm not sure if the Jewish didn't have services there also, in the chapel. So that was very convenient, because then our WAVE quarters were built across the street from work. And they started with three buildings. Ended up with 25. That is the number of WAVES that were working on codes and ciphers for the United States Navy. And, of course, this building and the work we were doing was with the Vice Chief of Naval Operations. And so, actually, we were working for that effort -- that part of the Navy.

James Lyko:

And how many were you, did you say? Twenty-five?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Twenty-five -- well, I showed --

James Lyko:

You said twenty-five buildings?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Twenty-five buildings.

James Lyko:

Okay.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Yeah. Filled with WAVES.

James Lyko:

Filled? Okay. So that's a lot?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

So thousands --

James Lyko:

Yes.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

-- of women worked on these. And, of course, there were some men also. As a matter of fact, our office, we had mostly officers from the University of Ohio. The whole -- the head of the whole Nebraska Avenue program there was -- he wasn't a Captain. I can't remember exactly. But his name was Ford. And, of course, he was Navy. And he later became an editor of the Heritage Magazine after he got out of the service. So I wish I could remember his title but I don't. We were very, very aware of the fact that this was an important job. First of all, we worked around -- we didn't -- we worked -- first of all, when we went there, we used to work watches. Eight hours for two days -- well, eight hours each day. Say, 8:00 to 4:00. Then we were off until the next day at 4:00. We worked 4:00 to 12:00 for two days. Then we were off until late watch started at 12:00. And we worked 12:00 to 8:00 for two days. Well, this was not a very healthy situation. All we did was sleep and eat and go to work. So then they changed it. And we worked five-day watches. So we were on watch from 8:00 to 4:00 for five days and so forth. So that worked out. And since we were right across the street and living in the WAVE quarters, it was easy because our mess hall was there. A huge mess hall. And we even fed the Marines who were stationed over at American University. And when they would come to eat in our mess hall, they fed us as women should be fed. Smaller portions and so forth. And, of course, the Marines would go back with their tray and the bread would be piled up. Like half a loaf of bread for each meal. But the food was excellent. The food was just wonderful. And we had Navy cooks. And when we went -- visited other Naval bases, like to go to a dance or something like that and they invited us for their meal, we were -- we were inundated with food. And we realized that the men ate differently than we did.

James Lyko:

They still do.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Yes. Well, we were doing very, very well at Nebraska Avenue and -- at the WAVE quarters -- until summer came. And, of course, there was no air-conditioning in either the places where we slept or in the mess hall. And the mess hall, sometimes I think -- well, if you have ever been in Washington in the summertime, you know it can get very hot and humid. And we were all -- we had to eat with our uniform. Full uniform. That meant wool suits. Long sleeved shirts and ties. Hats. So as the women started passing out in line --

James Lyko:

Yeah. Yeah.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

-- they knew something had to be changed. So we received a new uniform for summer. And it was a nice -- very nice uniform. Very cool. We still had to wear our tie. We still had to wear our hat. But it was cool. It was a dress. Yes. And so it was a lot happier. And lots of times WAVES would just not go to mess. They just wouldn't go because they knew it was just too hot there. So they would pay for their own food and go down to the local restaurant to eat. But it wasn't convenient because there wasn't usually -- it was a long walk to go down to the center where we were and to find any place to eat. But it turned out very well at the mess hall. And there were -- we had so many things. We had a pool. We had dancing lessons. We had sports. We put on plays, if anyone was interested. The Warrant Officer in our unit that worked with us became quite famous as a TV actor. And he appeared with Eve Arden in that show that she was in.

James Lyko:

Miss Brooks?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Yes. Miss Brooks.

James Lyko:

Is that so?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

And he was her boyfriend. Right.

James Lyko:

Really?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Yes. And we didn't have shredding machines then. We had what we called burn bags. And so any materials that we worked on we had to put in these burn bags -- we had to discard -- we had to put in the burn bags. And then once every so often, the burn bags would have to go down to a place where they burned them. So they always had to have an escort. And the poor young man that worked with us, like the fellow who was our Warrant Officer, had to have a side arm. And, of course, we would always kid them and say, please, don't shoot yourself in the foot because -- have you ever been taught how to use a gun to begin with? Nothing -- we didn't have any accidents anyway. But during that time I worked on JN-25, which was a very important Naval code. We did not compromise 25 when I went into the service and went to work on it. JN-25 was compromised long before that. And there were people in Hawaii, a group of intelligence officers -- a small group -- who were working on it and were doing a very good job, as a matter of fact. But, unfortunately, at that time, the Navy only had 42 people in the whole Navy --

James Lyko:

Who could speak Japanese?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

-- who could speak Japanese fluently.

James Lyko:

Yeah.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

And so that was a drawback. However, we must have been very cautious about how we reacted to the code when we did compromise it, because the Japanese continued to use it right through the war. And they may have changed things so that we would have to go to work and figure out what the change -- how the change was made. At one time they were using -- in a message they would put -- I can't say it was a graph -- they put a piece -- I don't know. It was almost like something that was cut out of a piece of paper so that it would be cut out in certain places. And you would put it down over the message.

James Lyko:

Oh. A mask?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

And you just -- a mask. Yes. And so then we had to figure out, with the mask, you know -- it wasn't our job to figure it out. We were still doing additives. Adding five numerals to five numerals. Getting a sum. And that sum always had to be divisible by three. There was never any carrying. In other words, if you said 9 plus 5, the answer was 4. And so, but three was a superstition, evidently, with the Japanese.

James Lyko:

Oh, really?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Because it did limit them, somewhat, in the use of numbers. We were very successful, but we were always cautioned if we were successful. And that was a secret. Almost -- it was almost body language when you saw other people from other sections in the cafeteria that things were good that day.

James Lyko:

Oh. Okay.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

It was maybe more smiles on a face or something like that. But we were always cautioned that when we left the building, poker face.

James Lyko:

Don't indicate anything?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Don't indicate by your expressions that something good was going on inside. So we took secrecy very seriously. And it was all -- we met some wonderful people. I stayed with JN-25 for about a year and a half, almost two years. And then I was transferred with my Section Head to weather codes. And in the weather codes we had a job -- and it -- we kept getting these messages, and we didn't know how to classify them. So we would say, well, we have -- already have top secret. So, and we already had top secret ultra. So we got so we would say, well, we'll classify this as top secret ultra ultra. When we got to the third ultra, we had one of the officers coming in and he said to the group -- and we worked in a very small space. I don't think we even had a window. And he said, look -- he said, regarding classification -- he said, pretty soon it's going to get to the point where nobody is going to be able to read this message. And he said, and we do have to read it. So, he said, let's cut it down to one ultra. And so that was the way it was. But it was a lot of -- it was very interesting to work with the meteorologists because we found out so much about weather.

James Lyko:

Oh. I'll bet.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

And when I hear people complain about the meteorologists and the fact that, oh, they never do it right. They never get it right. Well, let me tell you: Unless you are getting the weather right now, ten minutes from now the wind can change.

James Lyko:

Right.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

The whole picture can change. And it's no fault of the meteorologist.

James Lyko:

Yeah.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

He has done the right reading the first time, or she has. And from that point on, it's just up to God.

James Lyko:

Barbara, tell me this: When you would take whatever kind of a document that had numbers that was part of the JN, Japanese Navy code, when you finished doing all your additives and math and whatever the process was, did you come up with the message?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

No.

James Lyko:

Or did you come up with numbers that someone else would read?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

No. We had one sheet with just additives to it.

James Lyko:

Okay.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

And the additive, of course, paired so that we had to get a sum. Now, there were probably four or five tables in our room, big. And there was a big sign there that said: In case of air raids, we continue working. So we knew what we had to do. But at each table we had probably about 10 WAVES. And maybe on occasion we might have a Sailor. Because we did have maybe -- I think we had probably five Sailors in the building, well, in our section, JN-25. Then what we would do is, as soon as we finished -- now you can say, all you did was add numbers and divide. And, oh, golly, how dull. Well, it appears dull. However, we knew that the next section couldn't do anything until we were finished with what we had done.

James Lyko:

Okay.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

And it had to be correct. It had to be fast. It wasn't sitting there just with one thing, you know, one sheet of numbers all day. We were working from 8:00 to 4:00 --

James Lyko:

Yeah.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

-- with maybe a half an hour out for a meal. As soon as one was finished, we would raise our hand. The officer, the Watch Officer would take it. And it would go on into the next section.

James Lyko:

Okay.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

So what happened with that? We don't know.

James Lyko:

Okay.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

I have no idea. Except at -- just before I was -- just before I left and I was separated from the Navy, the last day that I was at Nebraska Avenue and in the office -- we always had a British liaison officer work with us. He was British Army. And he was just the nicest person. And all the time I worked on JN-25 he worked on it. And so when the group of us girls were leaving to go, forever, he said, would you like to see a message in the clear? Of course, this was after the war.

James Lyko:

Okay.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

And we said, yes. Oh, yes. Well, we picked it up. And we looked at it. Well, you would have to be, number one, you would have to be a Seaman to know because it's naval.

James Lyko:

Yeah.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

It has to do with ships.

James Lyko:

Navy Yard. Yeah.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

And where they are going and which port they are going to and at what speed. Well, we said, thank you very much.

James Lyko:

But it was nice to see the end result of your efforts?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

It was nice to see the end results. Yes.

James Lyko:

Absolutely.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

And we were told -- by this time we had a Harvard man and an MIT man who had worked very hard for quite a long time. And I carpooled with him. A nice young man. And we had a computer. And the computer would do our work, that we might take a week to do, in something like 17 minutes.

James Lyko:

Wow. This is when now? This is --

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

This is by the end of the war.

James Lyko:

Okay. Using punch cards or something?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Using punch cards. Yes.

James Lyko:

Okay.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Because one of my roommates that I -- when I lived off base and had an apartment -- one of my roommates was a machine operator for the punch cards. FEMALE VOICE: Barbara, when you were doing the codes for the weather --

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Yes. FEMALE VOICE: -- was that somebody deciding what the weather was in Washington for the ships?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

No. Weather then was secret, because we didn't have what we have now with TV. I was amazed the first time I ever saw someone standing over in Iraq saying it's cloudy. Well, that was secret. But, no. Our job, when we were sent over there from JN-25, was to do a ten-year survey of weather for three naval bases. Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and --

James Lyko:

There was a third target.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

-- Yokohama. Yes. And so it would give them an idea of what to expect.

James Lyko:

Yes.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

The one thing that I did in my research -- find out that when we had -- when they went into Midway, we had compromised JN-25. Then in the Marianas we had a Japanese -- and I got this from history books -- we had these -- this Japanese Admiral who decided that since we had evidently put some military on Saipan, Saipan was north. We had Tinian. And then we had Guam. And, of course, we wanted all these islands back. He had spread his -- risky -- and he had spread his Navy quite far and quite spread out. And it seems that we could give the people on these islands -- the people who were planning on going ashore or were ashore -- we could give them the information. We could give them the intelligence that we had found out from JN-25 that this was his plan. And he was -- the Japanese lost decidedly. And then, of course, I went in -- I was up on Connecticut Avenue one day, July 3rd I remember, I walked in to get a newspaper. And headlines were: The Third Marine Division was the first Division into Guam. Well, my future husband was in the Third Marine Division. And I have wondered if our work on JN-25 had helped them --

James Lyko:

I'm sure it did.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

-- in their effort.

James Lyko:

Then Admiral Yamamoto was --

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Yes.

James Lyko:

Tell me about that.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Well, he was, of course, the architect for the raid on Pearl Harbor and all of that. And he was killed when he took his airplane from one place to another. And we wondered at the time if that was the reason we were given that unit citation.

James Lyko:

That was the result of your deciphering the code. That is in the history books.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

That would have been JN-25. Right. Yes.

James Lyko:

Okay. So the war is ending?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Yes. And, of course, the number of points that you got and that you received, it was the amount of time you were in, the work you were doing -- well, mostly it was the amount of time you were in -- you would be discharge or separated. And fortunately for us the Navy did a great job at the place of separation by taking us through all of the benefits that we would be able to receive, as far as medical. And there were other thing, too, that went along. And I don't know if the GI Bill was in tact at that point. But they said that there was something in the process that Congress was thinking about. And so there was a lot that they told us that we could do. And also they told us how to handle the secret part. Because we could not tell any employer what we had been doing. So it boiled down to us being clerks. File clerks.

James Lyko:

Oh, so that's what you said?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

That's right.

James Lyko:

You had to tell them something.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Or you had to tell them something. That's right.

James Lyko:

So how long were you doing the -- working on the JN-25? The code?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Yes. About a year and a half.

James Lyko:

A year and a half?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

I would say almost two years.

James Lyko:

Okay. And where were you when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed in August of '45?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

I'm sorry. I didn't hear you.

James Lyko:

In August of '45 when Hiroshima was bombed --

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

I was working with the meteorologists. I was working on weather.

James Lyko:

You were on the weather side?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Yes. Because I have a feeling that when they bombed Japan that a lot of our weather information that we had accumulated was part of the intelligence that went into all of that planning.

James Lyko:

Okay. Well, that's exciting. It's exciting that you were involved, I guess. How did you feel about the dropping of the atomic bomb?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Thank God. The war is going to be over. All of our men are not going to have to try to invade Japan. And how many millions we might have lost.

James Lyko:

Right.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

We thanked God that the United States was able to do what they could do in that respect. And this was jubilation. We had a wonderful support from citizens. People couldn't do enough for us. If I took a train -- I can remember going home for Christmas, but I had to be back the next day. So I had to take the train on Christmas Day from Hartford to Washington. We were invited into the dining car. They have a Christmas dinner on the railroad. And people were always wonderful. Yes. And afterwards when I traveled to Normandy in about 2003, the people of Normandy couldn't do enough for three of us who traveled together. My friend, who had worked with me on Nebraska Avenue, and her husband, who had been in the Air Force in Europe, and myself, as soon as they found out at this little museum in Normandy -- one of the little towns there -- that we were veterans -- they wouldn't let us pay or anything.

James Lyko:

How wonderful.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

And the motels we stayed in there. Everything around. And, of course, I visited so many of the graves. I visited the grave where Patton was buried. I visited the graves in Normandy. And then I visited -- well, I was on a tour and we were going up from Nice up the River Rhone, I believe. I think it was the Rhone. But we took some of these ship -- river ships -- up the Rhine and the Rhone. And I know I did both rivers, so I'm not sure which one it was. But I think it was the Rhine. And on the way up we were asked if there were any veterans on the bus. And so a number of us raised our hand. And we stopped at a cemetery in France where some of our boys were buried, because at that time it was all male. And they had a lovely ceremony there. The grave had a little chapel associated with it. And it was so beautifully kept. And I understand that all the American cemeteries in the European countries -- the United States owns the land that the cemeteries are on. And they are all under the supervision of Americans but local people work there. And every single one that I visited was so beautifully kept. And to look across acres of crosses and Stars of David -- very few women. Maybe some nurses. But it's just awe inspiring.

James Lyko:

Well, it's nice that you had visited that and to see that. And to be thanked by people.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Oh, yes. And I went into the dugouts where they had the Maginot Line.

James Lyko:

Oh. Okay.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

And I was able to stand up with my head --

James Lyko:

Looking out at the water?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

-- out, looking out at the water. Right. Yes.

James Lyko:

At the Atlantic Wall looking out on the Atlantic.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

And that's when I was in Normandy.

James Lyko:

Normandy. Yeah. Yeah. How wonderful. Okay. So then you got -- you met this guy that came home from the Third Marines?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Yes. And two years later we were married.

James Lyko:

Yeah.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

And we have -- we were blessed with six beautiful children. Five girls and a boy. And I have lot in the military. I have one granddaughter-in-law who is now in Iraq.

James Lyko:

Oh, my.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Yes. And her husband, my grandson, was just given a Hero's Medal. He was -- he is stationed at MacDill outside of Tampa Florida. And he was at one of the gas stations on base, and he saw the helicopter come overhead. And this man was supposed to jump from the helicopter, but at a good height. And he was high enough to use a parachute. And as the man came down, he saw that he was in trouble because the wind was carrying him away from land. And the man was coming in the water. And Sean (ph) threw his jacket over the link fence -- where probably there was wire across it.

James Lyko:

Sure.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Leapt over. And another fellow -- another Air Force man -- followed him right over the fence. And the two of them went right into the water to rescue the man. Unfortunately -- this was a colonel and he was working for the SEALs -- and they worked and worked and the boys just could not untangle him. And the fellow drowned. But the boys had to go -- that were underwater so long -- had to be taken to the hospital and all. But they were given -- each given a medal. And they wear the medal -- not a ribbon -- but it's one of those awards that carries the medal. But the man's wife was present at the ceremony. And my grandson had to say a few words. And he said that he was so sorry that it wasn't a true rescue. But he said, this man made it possible for me to know what I could do under those circumstances. And I thank him for that.

James Lyko:

Nice words.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

That just --

James Lyko:

Yes.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

And I have a grandson that graduated from Coast Guard Academy.

James Lyko:

Are they nearby, these grandchildren and these six children of yours? Or are they scattered around the country?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Yes. They are scattered around the country. Yes. I have a daughter who was an officer in the Army.

James Lyko:

Lots to talk about at family gatherings?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Yes. We have a lot of respect for the military. Yes. And he pray very hard every day for the troops who are working so hard now to do what they are doing in such terrible, terrible terrain.

James Lyko:

It's a different kind of war, I think. But it's still -- it still requires the brave people to be part of it.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

That's right.

James Lyko:

Wow. Well, it's -- how are we doing here? Can you think of anything else?

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Well, I think that's my story.

James Lyko:

And a wonderful story it is.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

I really have gotten off on a lot of tangents here.

James Lyko:

No. No. This is -- Barbara, thank you. Thank you from Central Connecticut State University. And the Library of Congress thanks you. It has been a pleasure and an honor to interview you here today. Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Thank you, Jim. Unfortunately, when I was baptized Mary Barbara Brennan, my family opted to call me Barbara because they thought Mary Barbara was a little long. And so the Barbara is there, but however, legally, it is Mary. And in the service it was Mary B. Brennan.

James Lyko:

Okay.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

But I like the Mary Barbara because at least people recognize, at this point, that I do have, you know, another name besides Mary.

James Lyko:

Well, we'll get the record straight.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Good. Very good. Yes. And I think I mentioned the fact that I was a Specialist (Q)(CR) First Class when I was separated from the Navy.

James Lyko:

Okay. Well, thank you.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Well, thank you, Jim. I appreciate it. And I just think it's wonderful that you are able to do so much for the veterans.

James Lyko:

Well, I enjoyed it very much.

Mary Barbara Brennan Dannaher:

Thank you.

 
Home » Text Transcript
  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
  Legal | External Link Disclaimer Need Help?   
Contact Us