Home for dress skirts and service medals

Published May 28, 2007

BROOKSVILLE - Members of Unit 27 of the WAVES have contributed an abundance of memorabilia from their years in the military to the May-Stringer Heritage Museum.

The collection ranges from the small to the dazzling, from World War II to the Gulf War.

"We really didn't have anything for females, " said museum curator Diana Johnston. "It has rounded out the women's section of our military room. Before, they were just not represented properly. The women finally started doing it."

The unit, one of 120 throughout the United States, now numbers 18 members, down from 30 at one time. Each has contributed what she has retained over the years: service medals, ribbons, scrapbooks, recollections of their military years.

The centerpiece, Johnston said, has to be a dinner dress blue uniform of long skirt, ruffled-front white shirt, Eisenhower jacket, cummerbund and combination hat. The last item "looks like an upside down bucket with white top on black, " said its donor, Theresa Eichberger of Spring Hill. "It's very distinguished."

Eichberger retired as a submarine tender in 1997 after 18 years in the Navy. Thus, the dress blue carries three gold chevrons and four gold stripes, plus three good conduct medals.

"I hated to part with it, " Eichberger said, "but I knew I'm never going to wear it again."

To accompany the regalia, other unit members gave white gloves and shoes. "They put it on a mannequin immediately, " Eichberger said of the museum staff.

Eichberger, 64, also donated service dress blues with skirt, slacks, jacket, shoes and hat. "I also gave a whole bunch of medals to put on dinner dress blues and regular ribbons to put on regular dress blues, " she said.

Other members contributed handbags to round out the attire.

Eichberger, who was deployed to Bermuda, France, Egypt, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, acknowledges she's "the youngster" in the unit.

Most of the members are 80 to 85 years of age, having served in the WAVES - Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service - during World War II, said publicity officer Lee Lund, who is 85. Lund served in the Bureau of Naval Personnel in Arlington, Va., screening and selecting qualified officers for particular duties aboard ships.

The women have given to the museum plump scrapbooks of their military histories, newspaper articles and photographs, along with their written recollections. Included is a photo of Lund passing with her unit in review by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia in New York City. There's a pamphlet with her picture on the cover of her visiting Arlington National Cemetery 50 years after her war.

President Mary Hinds, 85, who was employed in public works in charge of drawing, drafting and printing at the Brunswick Maine Naval Air Station during World War II, gave numerous scrapbook histories compiled by members.

Memorabilia of more recent vintage includes a finely embroidered U.S. flag that flew over an armored tank division in Iraq, plus a necklace medallion from a chaplain serving there. The two gifts were in response to Unit 27's gift of two big boxes of stuffed toys for Iraqi children.

Beth Gray can be contacted at graybethn@earthlink.net.

Fast Facts:

If you go

The May-Stringer Heritage Museum is at 601 Museum Court, off E Jefferson Street, in Brooksville. Hours are from noon to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is $5 for adults and $2 for children. For information, call the museum at 799-0129.