VetAssist Welcomes WWII Veteran Ruth Shust
New Jersey resident Ruth Shust is 100 years old, but she remembers waiting until she was 21 to enlist in the Navy’s WAVES program (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). “I didn’t want my parents to sign for me,” she explained, citing the restriction on women’s service at the time.
The year was 1944, and a passionate willingness to serve—however one could—had swept the nation. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, “We all wanted to do something… The atmosphere in the country was very patriotic at the time.” Two of her female cousins were serving as nurses with the Army. After seeing WAVES recruitment posters, Shust and a female neighbor both decided to sign up. In doing so, Shust was continuing a family tradition: her father and grandfather had served in the military during WWI and the Civil War, respectively.
Training & Service
While her neighbor was not accepted into WAVES due to eyesight restrictions, Shust was sent to six weeks of boot camp at Hunter College in New York City. She was one of six in her living quarters and one of 27 women in boot camp at the time. Her daughter, Debbie Herold, loves to joke that her mother—a model citizen who avoids any kind of trouble—received a demerit during boot camp for talking after lights out. “I had to clean the elevator area for the demerit,” chuckled Shust.
With her background in payroll operation, she was assigned to employ her logistical skills, with subsequent training at storekeeping school in Milledgeville, GA. From there, she returned closer to home, stationed in Mechanicsburg, PA, at a supply depot.
A fairly new site, sailors would train there before being shipped out. Some injured sailors would also return to the site, reassigned to desk work. Overall, most staff on-site were administrative, and about half were civilians.
“We were expediters. [For example,] a ship was going to leave, and they didn’t have the order on the ship, so they’d call us, and we’d have to trace why it was being held up.”
Underneath their offices, the staff had opportunities for recreation and social events. Shust also remembers that their barracks had a swimming pool and a hall for sports and exercise.
Life After the War
Shust had signed up for “the duration of the war, plus six months,” not knowing how long that would be. The day it was announced that the war had ended, she was on leave, but immediately went to meet with her servicemember friends to celebrate. “That was the greatest day!”
She and her peers were discharged in early 1946, and she returned to her old job with Bethlehem Steel. She also married Joseph, an Army medic from a family of veterans.
Reflecting on her military service, she said she tries to remember the good memories, but also noted that much of it was heartbreaking, particularly when servicemembers were separated from their families for a long time, or did not return home at all.
Now 100 years old, Shust is a client of VetAssist, which her daughter helped facilitate. Her caregiver, Angie, works through Orion’s Home HealthCare, an agency her veteran father founded and which is currently focused on funding and implementing a program where veterans are trained as caregivers for other veterans. “They thrive more being around other vets,” commented Angie. “Veterans trust their own. They have a lot in common.” Partnering with VetAssist since 2017, Angie is excited to begin working with Shust.
We are grateful to Ruth Shust for her service and her willingness to share her story, as well as to Debbie Herold for helping to tell it.