The Clark’s raised their only child in the countryside of New Jersey about twenty miles from New York City. Playing a game called Monopoly was one of Eugenia’s favorite things to do as a child. She remembers having beloved pets, a cat and a dog, during her childhood. The Great Depression was a horrible economic time that started in 1929 after the stock market crashed. Eugenia says it was during that time her family learned how to “squeeze a nickel.” Her parents had a home in the country, and had a big garden and fruit trees. Having home-grown food made a lot of difference back in these difficult days. Families who lived in a city and didn’t have a garden plot had a difficult time affording food.
Eugenia came from a line of strong, remarkable women who made their mark on the world. Eugenia’s grandmother, Bernice Clark, served in the American Red Cross (ARC) in France during World War I. While it seems like this organization has been around forever, it was still in its infancy when World War I broke out in Europe. Red Cross nurses and volunteers were essential to the war effort and saving lives of wounded soldiers.
In the early 1900’s Eugenia’s Great Aunt Katherine Puffer wrote for the Christian Science Monitor in Boston, Massachusetts. Later, when Katherine was in her seventies, she attended Harvard University to fulfill her lifelong dream. This is a very prestigious university named after its first benefactor, Pastor John Harvard. It is the United States’ oldest institution of higher learning.
Eugenia’s mother was a secretary and her father was an engineer and amateur photographer. Growing up, Eugenia helped alongside her father in their camera shop. She graduated high school with honors in June 1941, World War II was well underway, in Europe and Eugenia was eager to serve her country. Unfortunately, the Navy required women to be 19 years old to enlist. She began working full time at a local camera shop and, since she was very good at mathematics, she began attending an army drafting school in Long Branch, New Jersey.
Eugenia lived in barracks with the other women in the drafting school. There was a lot of publicity in the newspaper about a new women’s volunteer service. In 1942 the United States Naval Reserve opened a women’s branch called WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). Eugenia quickly enlisted, with the support of her family, and became a proud member of its very first class of WAVES. She went through boot camp at Hunter College, Bronx, New York and then service school at Fairchild’s Aviation in New York City. Then the group of five were sent to Norfolk Air Field in Virginia. Because of her experience working in her parent’s camera shop, Eugenia’s role was to repair gun sight aiming point cameras. These were the cameras that were attached to the bottom of bomber aircraft. They were essential in providing naval intelligence and ensuring targets were hit.
Eugenia fondly recalls the time spent traveling to Washington D.C. when she wasn’t working. She really enjoyed dancing and music, so when she and her colleagues weren’t working, they could be found picnicking or dancing. Although these escapes from the reality of war were definitely needed, Eugenia teared up as she recalled each night laying in her bunk. At night she said every 60-90 seconds a plane would return from a mission. For this, Eugenia said a silent thanks, as it meant one of their crew would be returning home from his mission. Above all, Eugenia said that WAVES. taught her what obedience meant. She recalled that patriotism and a sense of duty to help her country ran deep in her veins, and besides, she “looked better in blue than navy.”
After the war, Eugenia went to work at Weston Electronical Instruments Corporation where her father worked. There, she worked in the photo lab and met her husband, Horace Woodward, who was a U.S. Army veteran and an engineer. They married on August 15, 1947. Together, they had five children: Nancy (born in 1949); Patricia (born in 1951); Neil (born in 1952); Christian (born in 1955); and, Karen (born in 1957). Nancy and Neil both served in the U.S. Navy (Neil served on the Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier). Karen served in the U.S. Army as did Patricia’s husband. Ed was stationed in Germany.
As an active senior citizen, Eugenia has served in many capacities as a veteran in her Honolulu, Hawaii community. She organized and ran a convention for WAVE National in 1998. Eugenia was treasurer for Oahu Veterans Council for 20 years. For Women’s History Month in March 2015, the Navy Region Hawaii held a ceremony honoring women in uniform, and Eugenia was the guest of honor at Pearl Harbor. She received a standing ovation for her service in World War II.
Eugenia has enjoyed bringing veterans, both men and women, together to preserve the stories of their generation. She recognizes the importance of keeping the stories alive and preserving the spirit of patriotism.
If you visit Eugenia in her home, you will see a letter signed by President Harry Truman. It says:
“To you who answered the call of your country and served in its Armed Forces to bring about the total defeat of the enemy, I extend the heartfelt thanks of a grateful Nation. As one of the Nation’s finest, you undertook the most severe task one can be called upon to perform. Because you demonstrated fortitude, resourcefulness and calm judgement necessary to carry out that task, we now look to you for leadership and example in further exalting our country in peace.”
–Signed by President Truman
“War is a grim, cruel business, a business justified only as a means of sustaining the forces of good against those of evil.”
-General Dwight D. Eisenhower
The book is available on Amazon.
A BOOK by ME, a book series developed by Deb Bowen, empowers students to preserve history by telling the story of unsung heroes in our communities. For the young participants, it’s a guided cross-curricular project that gathers stories of people who do amazing things but have received little or no recognition. Students learn how to publish a picture book that is a primary source document with photographs and a biography.
Since 2003, Deb Bowen has been arranging meetings between students and individuals from the WWII generation. This intergenerational storytelling results in unique storybooks written and illustrated by kids for kids in the A BOOK by ME series. More about Deb Bowen >