Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Story of Evelyn Borden Usrey's Life!

"This Day in History"

September 22, 1924

Today, 91 years ago, Evelyn Borden was born in Fall River, Massachusetts.  She grew up during the Great Depression that gripped the country; in 1936, her father, Clinton, passed away.  Her mother, Edith, raised Evelyn along with her sister, Alice, and brothers, Charles, Ernest, and Robert.  Eventually Edith remarried.  In the 1940s, Evelyn's stepfather worked in a naval shipyard in Kittery, Maine.

"We had fun growing up.  We didn't have any money or anything, but we had fun.  But one thing we always had was the river or the ocean.  We could always go fishing."
--Evelyn Borden Usrey, interview by AIMM June 17, 2014.

December 7, 1941, Evelyn was home in the midst of her senior year of high school when World War II broke out in the United States. 

"We listened to the radio.  In our movies they had news reels.  And a group of us in high school used to get together and sew for the Red Cross to go overseas just before we were in the war.  So, we were all aware of what was going on, but the bombing of Pearl Harbor was a big shock."
--Evelyn Borden Usrey, interview by AIMM June 17, 2014.

She graduated from Somerset High School May of 1942 in Somerset, Massachusetts.  After she graduated from high school, Evelyn was told she had to help her family financially with two younger brothers still at home. So she moved to Kittery, Maine.

September 1942, Evelyn moved to Kittery, Maine, to work, as a civilian, at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.  The shipyard had almost 25,000 civilians working in the yards during World War II when over 70 submarines were constructed at the yard.  Evelyn worked in the Supply Department.  She was in charge of ensuring each submarine being constructed and submarines on patrol had the supplies that they required. 

USS Balao (SS 285) was the first submarine being built in Portsmouth when Evelyn arrived.  From her office window she watched the WAVES going into the submarines to build the boats. Note: WAVES were Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.  WAVES were the manpower behind building submarines during World War II.  The men were gone.  The few men that served in the shipyard were officers.  One of the officers gave her a tour of the submarine, Balao.  She remembers on this tour that they enjoyed coffee and cigarettes in the officers quarters.  

Evelyn stated, "After you've seen one, you've seen them all."  Her memories of the other submarines from Portsmouth seemed to blur together.  While, USS Razorback (SS 394) was built in Portsmouth, by 1944, Evelyn has supplied over 50 submarines, so she did not have any specific memories about Razorback.

One aspect of working in Portsmouth that Evelyn remembered fondly was that of commissioning parties held for the submarine crew members.  She remembers that these parties consisted of drinking, eating, and dancing.  The commissioning parties had good food, like butter, which was a high commodity during the food rationing of World War II.

"I never jitterbugged in my life, and neither did my date, but some of my friends dared us to get out there and get into the contest.  And we won! We just did our own thing.  It was fun." 
--Evelyn Borden Usrey, interview by AIMM June 17, 2014.

Evelyn also explained that they had barbecues, cookouts, and weenie roasts on the beach with Sailors and Marines, just not at the same time.  "The only way you mix a Marine and a Sailor is if they're both in the same family," according to Evelyn.  Also these dinners on the beach had to end before night fell.  Living on the coast, there were strict instructions about lighting after dark.  The town had to "blackout."  This included using blackout curtains before any lights could be turned on in the house.  The streetlights allowed only a small amount of light in a narrow area.  All of this prevented any enemy vessels from seeing the structures on the coast.

The "blackouts" were not the only thing in the shipyard work that reminded Evelyn that the United States was in the midst of war.  Evelyn remembers, spring of 1945, that while she was supplying submarines already serving in the war, there was one submarine that was sixty days overdue and presumed lost at sea.  Unfortunately, Evelyn's friend was married to a man aboard this submarine that was presumed lost.  Often, her friend requested information, and due to the sensitive information Evelyn was unable to tell her friend anything.  June of 1945, while Evelyn was close to a nervous breakdown due to her knowledge of this lost submarine, she left the shipyard to join the Navy.

Evelyn served as a civilian in the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard from September 1942 till June of 1945.  Little did she know that seventy years later she would be able to visit one of these Portsmouth submarines again.  The museum staff, volunteers, and former Razorback crew members were always happy to see Evelyn visit and enjoy her stories from the yards.  

September 3, 2015, Evelyn Borden Usrey went home to be with the Lord.  Everyone connected with the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum were very saddened with this news.  We were all so happy that we were able to have met and gotten to know Evelyn the last few years.


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