WAVES letterhead
United States Navy W.A.V.E.S. letterhead.

Guide to the Ida Emilie and Wilna J. Cornwell Letters, 1943-1945

MS 263

A collection in the
Special Collections & Archives Department,
Nimitz Library

Naval Academy Seal

United States Naval Academy
589 McNair Road
Annapolis, MD 21402-5029

Prepared by: David D'Onofrio
(Original Guide by Mary R. Catalfamo, 1991)

May 2008

Descriptive Summary

Provenance:
Unknown.
Size:
7 linear inches.
Access:
Access to the Ida Emilie and Wilna J. Cornwell WAVES Letters is unrestricted.
Copyright:
The Ida Emilie and Wilna J. Cornwell WAVES Letters are the physical property of Nimitz Library. Copyright belongs to the authors or creators of the works, or their legal representatives. For further information, consult the Head, Special Collections & Archives.
Permission:
It is the responsibility of the researcher to secure written permission to publish, reprint, or reproduce material from Special Collections & Archives. The researcher assumes responsibility for infringement of copyright or literary or publication rights. Please contact the Head, Special Collections & Archives for permission to publish and for further information
Preferred Citation:
Ida Emilie and Wilna J. Cornwell WAVES Letters, MS 263
Special Collections & Archives Department
Nimitz Library
United States Naval Academy

Biographical Sketch

Ida Emilie Cornwell
The daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J.R. Cornwell of Alhambra, California, Ida Emilie Cornwell enlisted in the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) in September 1943. Upon enlisting she was sent, along with her sister, Wilna J. Cornwell, to the U.S. Naval Training School, located on the Bronx, New York campus of Hunter College.

In November 1943, following the completion of basic training, Ida Emilie was transferred to the Naval Air Station, Atlanta, Georgia, where she attended Link Instrument Training Instructors School for training to become a Link flight simulator operator. Following a brief stay in Green Cove Springs, Florida, Ida Emilie was transferred to Naval Air Navigation School in Hollywood, Florida in January 1944. Three month later, Ida Emilie was transferred to the Ground School at Cecil Field, Jacksonville, Florida, where she taught beginner Link work to servicemen attending gunnery school, and advanced carrier navigation to Navy pilots. While at Cecil Field, Ida Emilie received promotion to the rank of Specialist Teacher Second Class.
After signing up for overseas duty in November of 1944, and a subsequent promotion to the rank of Specialist Teacher First Class in February of 1945, Ida Emilie was transferred to Shoemaker, California in July for preparation for overseas duty. Later that same month, she was transferred to Kaneohe, Hawaii for additional Link operation duties. In September 1945, Ida Emilie was transferred for a final time to Ford Island, Hawaii, before being discharged from the WAVES in December 1945.

Wilna J. Cornwell
The daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J.R. Cornwell of Alhambra, California, Wilna J. Cornwell enlisted in the WAVES in September 1943. Upon enlisting she was sent, along with her sister, Ida Emilie Cornwell, to the U.S. Naval Training School, located on the Bronx, New York campus of Hunter College. By late October, Wilna J. received her first promotion to Second Class as part of a work company.

In November 1943, Wilna J. was sent to Aerographers School Training Unit at Naval Air Station, Lakehurst, New Jersey, where she trained to be an aerographer's mate. Upon completion of her training there, Wilna J. transferred to the Naval Air Station, San Pedro, California on Terminal Island.

Following signing up for overseas duty in November 1944, Wilna J. was transferred to Hawaii ca. March 1945 and presumably was discharged around the same time as her sister, Ida Emilie.

Scope and Content Note

The Ida Emilie and Wilna J. Cornwell WAVES Letters, comprising 7 linear inches of documents, span the WAVES careers of sisters Ida Emilie and Wilna J. Cornwell, from 1943 to 1945. The letters document various aspects of WAVES service, including basic and specialty training, housing, food and food quality, job responsibilities, interactions with servicemen, leave and recreation, acquaintances, and comparisons between different duty stations.

The collection is composed primarily of letters written by the two sisters to their parents and each other, but also includes other types of correspondence, such as form letters, postcards and greeting cards. Also included in the collection are several photographs, insignia badges, and publications.

The Cornwell letters are arranged by author, thereunder chronologically, with no series or sub-series divisions. The letters penned by Ida Emilie, comprising two-thirds of the collection, are addressed primarily to her parents, with several letters and postcards addressed to her sister Wilna. In addition to addressing the basic routines and the specifics of various duties of WAVES service, including lengthy descriptions of leave, Ida Emilie’s letters offer occasional candid opinions of Navy servicemen, including viewpoints on Navy pilots (April 13, 1944), Marines (April 26, 1944), and a group of French pilots (May 28-29, 1944), as well as a constant critique on the Navy’s methods and procedures, and a general feeling of inadequacy regarding her part in the war effort (January 7, 1944). Also among Ida Emilie’s letters are a Christmas dinner menu, her notice of promotion to First Class (February 1945), and a letter of appreciation from Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal (December 1945).

The letters written by Wilna J., comprising less than one-third of the collection, are addressed to her parents, with a single postcard addressed to her sister, Ida Emilie. Included with Wilna J’s letters are a Thanksgiving dinner menu from 1943, a U.S. Naval Training School Letter Booklet (October 1943), and Aerography striker’s badge (enclosure of November 3, 1943).
The remainder of the collection, filed after the correspondence, consists of several miscellaneous items, including blank postcards, a copy of How to Serve Your Country in the WAVES or SPARS, and a WAVES insignia badge, as well as several photographs, including a WAVES group photograph, and several small portraits of Ida Emilie Cornwell.

Research topics illuminated by the collection revolve around the role of women and reservists in World War II, including details on the tasks and duties performed by women, women's reaction to their role in the war effort, interactions between women and regular servicemen, and the Navy's estimation of the utility of WAVES in certain roles. The collection also serves as an example of the general nature of correspondence between service members and their families.

Container List

Box Folder  
1 1 Ida Emilie Cornwell Correspondence, September-October 1943

Arrival at U.S. Naval Training School (Women's Reserve), Bronx, NY with descriptions including mess, housing, physicals, classes, uniforms, salary, treatment by officers, service selection as Link operator, and duty as Mustering Section Leader.

2 Ida Emilie Cornwell Correspondence, November-December 1943

Arrival at Link Instrument Training Instructors School, U.S. Naval Station, Atlanta, GA, with descriptions of training, studies and exams, recreation and leave, introduction of night shift for classes, and a plane crash at the field.

3 Ida Emilie Cornwell Correspondence, January 1944

Link school to no longer train WAVES as operators after Ida Emilie's class, replacing WAVES with "cadets who washed out of the Air Corps," (January 2, 1944). Transfer to Green Cove Springs and Hollywood, FL, with descriptions of air navigation courses as member of first class of WAVES at Naval Air Navigation School.

4 Ida Emilie Cornwell Correspondence, February 1944

Continued training as Link operator/instructor, training aboard Navy scout bomber, and duties teaching radar range and navigation instructors in Link flying.

5 Ida Emilie Cornwell Correspondence, March 1944

Continued duties teaching navigation instructors in Link flying, conversion of school to an indoctrination school for officer training, and rumored moving of the school.

6 Ida Emilie Cornwell Correspondence, April-May 1944

Transfer to Ground School, U.S. Naval Auxiliary Air Station, Cecil Field, Jacksonville, FL, with descriptions of housing, mess, work schedule, duties teaching Link work to Gunnery School students and French pilots, and opinions of Marines and Navy Pilots.

7 Ida Emilie Cornwell Correspondence, June-July 1944

Studies and preliminaries for Second Class rating and subsequent promotion.

8 Ida Emilie Cornwell Correspondence, August-September 1944

Shortage of Link operators, personnel inspections, and preparations on base for a hurricane.

9 Ida Emilie Cornwell Correspondence, October 1944

Fatal plane crash at field and WAVES' reactions, additional duties in the Link departments, including supervisory and radio work.

10 Ida Emilie Cornwell Correspondence, November-December 1944

Repairing Cub planes, physical education program, and signing up for overseas duty.

11 Ida Emilie Cornwell Correspondence, January-February 1945

New Year's Eve celebrations on base, Captain McAfee's visit to WAVES on base, declaration of wearing men's officer caps by WAVES illegal, and promotion to First Class.

12 Ida Emilie Cornwell Correspondence, March-April 1945

Continued description of physical education program, mention of sister Wilna J's transfer to Hawaii.

13 Ida Emilie Cornwell Correspondence, May-June 1945

VE Day, inspection at base.

14 Ida Emilie Cornwell Correspondence, July 1945

Transfers to Shoemaker, CA and Kaneohe, HI, with descriptions of plans to set up Link trainer program.

15 Ida Emilie Cornwell Correspondence, August-December 1945

VJ Day, WAVES life in Hawaii, and duties compiling point scores. Transfer to Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, HI, and remarks on cruise to Hawaii aboard an Attach Hospital Ship.

Box Folder
2 1 Wilna J. Cornwell Correspondence, September-October 1943

Arrival at U.S. Naval Training School (Women's Reserve), Bronx, NY, with descriptions of mess, housing, station and shore liberty, ill-effects of typhoid shots, and shore patrol as part of Work Company.

2 Wilna J. Cornwell Correspondence, November 1943

Transfer to Aerographers' School, U.S. Naval Air Station, Lakehurst, NJ.

3 Wilna J. Cornwell Correspondence, December 1943-July 1944 and undated

Transfer to U.S. Naval Air Station, Terminal Island, San Pedro, CA.

4 Photographs, ca. 1944-1945
5 Postcards (Blank), ca. 1943-1945
6 Publication - How to Serve Your Country in the WAVES or SPARS, 1943
7 WAVES Insignia Badge, ca. 1943-1945