Public Law 689 specifically stated that the WAVES would remain restricted to the continental United States and not serve on board naval vessels or aircraft. This restriction is, however, misleading, as women did serve on vessels and in combat areas as nurses in the Navy Nurses Corps, established in 1908. The restriction keeping WAVES in the continental United States did not last, and by September 1944, they were allowed to volunteer for duty in Alaska, Hawaii, the Caribbean, and Panama. By the end of the war, women constituted nearly 2 percent of the U.S. Navy. In some areas, such as the Navy Department in Washington, over half the uniformed personnel were WAVES.
WAVES served in many noncombat roles during the war. Eighty were naval air navigators. Some trained future naval aviators in instrument flying and served as gunner's mates to teach men antiaircraft gunnery. Others were involved with decoding messages or with the hospital corps. Well over 85,000 women served in the WAVES during World War II. A study conducted in 1944 showed that the WAVES then in service released from noncombat duties enough male personnel to man 10 battleships, 10 aircraft carriers, 28 cruisers, and 50 destroyers. There was also a Coast Guard women's auxiliary, the SPARS (combining the Latin and English versions of the Coast Guard motto, Semper Paratus, meaning "always ready") and the Marine Corps Women's Reserve (MCWR).
The WAVES became a permanent part of the navy in 1948 when Congress passed the Women's Armed Service Integration Act (Public Law 625). This step eventually led to the full integration into the armed forces of all women's units in the 1970s.
Suzanne S. Finney
Ebbert, Jean, and Marie-Beth Hall. Crossed Currents: Navy Women in a Century of Change. Washington, DC: Batsford Brassey, 1999.; Godson, Susan H. Serving Proudly: A History of Women in the U.S. Navy. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2001.; Holm, Jeanne. Women in the Military. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Presidio, 1992.; Wingo, Josette Dermody. Mother Was a Gunner's Mate: World War II in the WAVES. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1994.