Sallie Ellen Welsh
Sallie Ellen Welsh (Van Arsdale) Sallie Welsh never expected to wear a military uniform. She was a Winnetka debutante and attended Vassar, but college life suddenly became grim when war broke out. The world had changed after Pearl Harbor. Welsh compares the feeling in the country at that time to the sentiment during the first two weeks after September 11, 2001 — except that it felt that way every day for the next four years.
Over Memorial Day weekend in 1943, Sallie flew home from Vassar to see fellow Winnetkan Dick Washburne, who was going overseas with the Army Air Force. Sallie and Dick hoped to marry when he returned from the war, but he was shot down over Germany and killed after just eight weeks.
Determined to serve in the war effort, Welsh joined the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, part of the Navy Reserve). She trained at the Midshipmen’s School for women officers housed at Smith College. Once while marching with her unit, Welsh noticed three Winnetka friends among the Smith College girls. Although they smiled and waved at her, Welsh could not wave back while in formation.
After her training, Welsh was assigned to the Philadelphia Navy Yard in the Supply Corps Expeditor Department. As part of her job as an expeditor, Welsh called manufacturers to try to speed up the delivery of various parts and equipment. At first, she was unsure what some of the parts, like gaskets, were, but she learned quickly.
Life in the Navy was vastly different from the life she had prepared for in Winnetka and at Vassar. Welsh never had to fend for herself before and realized that she had led a sheltered life. For example, she was shocked when she arrived in Philadelphia and was told she was responsible for finding her own place to live in a city with a severe housing shortage. Despite the difficulties, the Navy provided Welsh with experiences and opportunities she would not otherwise have had.