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96-year-old St. Cloud resident reflects on Pearl Harbor

Posted on Thursday, December 7, 2017 at 6:00 am

By Rachel Christian
Staff Writer
Osceola County resident Dorothy Jean “Pat” Rudd is best known these days for her fine needlework pieces at the Crafty Lady Needlework Group and her recent clutch win at the St. Cloud Senior Center 2018 Queen of the Year contest.
But the vivacious 96 year-old is also a self-identified “link to history.” During World War II, Rudd served as a member of the Navy’s special Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, or WAVES program.

News-Gazette Photo/Martin Maddock
Dorothy Jean “Pat” Rudd recently won the St. Cloud Senior Center Queen of the Year contest.

The female-only extension of the U.S. Navy was created in 1942 to provide the military with stateside support while men faced deployment overseas.
Rudd said she came to join WAVES over a three-day period when she was about 23 years-old. The Peoria, Ill. native received training at Hunter College in New York City before heading to Washington D.C., where she lived for a year. It was there in September of 1944 that Congress amended the law allowing WAVES
to volunteer for service
in the territories of Alaska and Hawaii.
“I went back to my platoon and told them I wanted to sign up right then to be on the off-shore mission,” Rudd said.
That December, the WAVES hit the shores of Pearl Harbor. Rudd was among the 200 women and 2,000 enlisted men who arrived to assist with clean-up and restoration efforts still underway at the Hawaii base three years after the Japanese attack.
Each WAVES enlistee was given a special duty, and Rudd was tasked with educating local children and assisting a legal officer. At the end of the day, the women were expected to volunteer at overcrowded hospitals on the island.
The work was exhausting, but Rudd said she was proud to help the cause.
“The devastation was all there,” Rudd said. “We had a few things that were enjoyable, but most of us were pretty tired at the end of the day.”
Some of those enjoyable highlights included monthly female-only retreat days to the other side of the island and a rare USO show featuring Bob Hope.
The WAVES’ peak strength was 86,291 members, and the program gained momentum as the war progressed. Rudd said she served with her unit in Hawaii until after Victory Day signaled the end of the South Pacific portion of the war in the fall of 1945.
Rudd recalled the streets of Honolulu packed with civilians and enlistees celebrating the news of America’s victory.
“Everybody was elated when that war was over,” Rudd said. “There was a lot of drinking, a lot of noise. Everyone celebrated well into the night.”
When the war was over, Rudd married Kissimmee native Gerald Rudd, a fellow Navy service member she met during her time in Hawaii.
After briefly living in Peoria, the couple moved to Orlando in the late 1940s. The Rudds established careers and over the years, watched as the Central Florida communities of Kissimmee and Orlando transformed from sleepy Southern towns into bustling cities.
Rudd described the area’s growth as “slow for many, many years” and then a flurry of growth all at once.
“The whole Lake Nona area where the hospital is now used to just be a lake surrounded by some dirt roads,” she said. “Most of the roads around here were dirt and sand at that time. My husband used to take our grandson out there fishing and camping a lot of weekends.”
Rudd retired from her job at Sun Trust bank in 1986, and has remained an active St. Cloud resident ever since.
The Navy veteran said she feels blessed to have witnessed both national and local history first hand during her life.
With a clean bill of health and an active lifestyle, Rudd said she doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.
“I do feel blessed, I really do,” Rudd said. “I am blessed to be so lucky to be active and still enjoying life.”