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Friday, April 12, 2024

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Potato Soup, Cotton Hose, and Bombings

Mable Jaworski

By Christopher South

WILDWOOD – Sitting down with Mable Jaworski, 98, she wondered why newspapers want to interview her.

Told that she was something special, Jaworski scoffed at the notion.

As if being 98 doesn’t make you special enough, Jaworski was recently honored at the annual Citizens/Veterans Advisory Committee (CVAC) brunch with a Valor Award, citing her service in World War II, when she worked as a telephone operator under the command of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Jaworski said she didn’t do anything the other women in the U.S. Army wouldn’t have done, but the key is, she did it.

She was born Mable McKee on May 13, 1924, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The family didn’t stay there long because her father traveled with the circus. Her mother died when she was quite young, and feeling ill-equipped to take care of young girls, her father placed her and her sister in a children’s home in Wheeling, West Virginia. She doesn’t have many memories of the orphanage, other than potato soup.

“I was kind of young. We got a lot of potato soup…they fed us a lot of potato soup,” she said.

Jaworski remained there until she was eight years old, when her father remarried, and he came and took her and her sister home to live.

“Then I got a stepmom, which was like going from the frying pan into the fire,” she said.

Jaworski said her stepmother had a daughter, who she apparently favored, and she said the living situation didn’t work out. When she was 14, however, she got a job as a live-in maid for a rich couple in Pittsburg. Asked if she took care of the kids, Jaworski said, “Well, at 14 years old, they would go off and leave me with this little three-year-old, you know. They trusted me.”

Eventually the rich couple moved to Philadelphia and took Jaworski with them. Her father likewise ended up in Philadelphia, where he took a job in the U.S. Navy Yard. Jaworski was 17 when the war broke out and she went to live with her father. Her two brothers entered the military; Walter joined the Navy, and Larry joined the Army. Jaworski felt like she wanted to serve in the military as well, but she was not old enough at the time.

“You got to be 21 – I was only 20. I’d seen my brothers, both were drafted, so I felt I should do something too. Plus, Eisenhower needed telephone operators,” she said.

Jaworski said the Bell company put up a sign at work saying if anybody wanted to enlist, they’d be guaranteed to get their job back when the war was over. Since the Army needed telephone operators, as well as teletype operators, her father signed the papers to allow her to enlist.

Jaworski joined the Women’s Army Corps, and she was sent to Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, which is on the Georgia-Tennessee line.

“And you don’t want to go through basic training – oh my god. We had a march in that hot Georgia sun,” she said.

Not that many women were cut out for the Army life. She said their hair had to be worn off their collar, and said many women didn’t want to, “give up their silk stockings for the cotton hose we wore.”

After her basic training, she was sent to Europe to work under Eisenhower’s command. According to her separation papers, Jaworski operated a telephone switchboard for long-distance calls in Paris, France. It was her job to relay incoming and outgoing messages and calls to and from the headquarters. Mable gave on-the-job training to 14 French civilians.

A photo Jaworski has was marked, “Paris, 1942,” on the back. That would have made her 18 when she went to work for Eisenhower. She was just under 22 when she was separated from the Army as a “buck sergeant,” having served on active duty for 22 months.

Jaworski described her service saying, “When (Eisenhower) chased the Germans out of France, he needed the American personnel, you know, so that’s when the switchboard operators, we went over telephone operators. It was like any other job. I mean, you know, you answered your calls, but you did all day long.”

Asked about Eisenhower, Jaworski said, “Well, you know, we didn’t really see him too much. He was a busy man.”

Asked if she ever felt at danger during the war, Jaworski referred to being in London during the bombings by the Nazi Luftwaffe.

“Well, the bombs were coming over and we’d go down the next day to see where they landed and made big holes in Hyde Park. We were lucky,” she said.

Jaworski recalled the warden walking around at night to make sure the blackout curtains were drawn, and if he saw anything he would blow his whistle.

Jaworski did return to her job at the telephone company, after being something of a pioneer in terms of leading women into military service. At the CVAC brunch, where it was said that some 3 million women have since followed her into the U.S. armed forces.

She worked at the telephone company until she married Daniel Jaworski and raised three children. Asked about the year she married, she said, “I can’t remember. Okay. You’d be surprised how I’m forgetting a lot of things because I’m 98. Now I’m going to be 99. I’m kinda…you know.”

She said everywhere she goes people ask her if she is related to former Eagles star Ron Jawaorski.

“No relation,” she said.

Jaworski recently moved from North Wildwood to Wildwood, as the family has tried to consolidate. She has been a member of both the VFW Post 5941 in North Wildwood and 3509 in Wildwood. She was named the permanent “Poppy Queen” by the North Wildwood VFW.

These days, Jaworski likes to go to the North Wildwood Senior Center.

“Yeah, every day. I go so to get out of her hair, you know (referring to her daughter Denise), and I enjoy being with the seniors. We have lunch. Play bingo. It’s nice,” she said.

Jaworski still can’t understand why people want to interview her.

“Can’t you find any other women veterans?” she asked.

Well, none like her.

 

 

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