AFRH-W Resident Highlight – Barbara Dannaher
By Christine Baldwin | Librarian
Ethel Barbara Dannaher was born in Massachusetts. She was an only child and her family wanted to have her grow up in a small town, so they moved to a place near the coast. She loved it and was able to go through all twelve grades in the parochial school. After graduating, Barbara worked as a bookkeeper in an automobile dealership. It was at this time that her priest started a young person’s group targeting working individuals. She met a young man there and he asked her out for a date. The date was on Sunday, December 7, 1941! Later, he would join the Marine Corps and after the war would become her husband. After hearing an ad on the radio about the Navy recruiting women, Barbara wanted to join. She and a friend went to New York and saw the recruiter. Since she was not 21, Barbara needed a parent’s signature. Her father was very happy about her decision, but her mother was a bit more reserved. She however was the one to sign the paper. So in December 1942, Barbara boarded a train for basic training at Cedar Falls, Iowa. The Navy had taken over Iowa State Teacher’s College for the 1,050 young women. Much to her surprise, when the training was over, she had orders for two assignments! This got straightened out and Barbara was off to the Navy yards in Washington, DC.
Barbara’s billet was at the Capitol Park Hotel, right across from Union Station. Her job was at the Navy Department on Nebraska Avenue and she had to swear an oath because she would be dealing with top secret materials; codes! Because of the large number of women (over 2,500) working in this area, the Navy procured the Mount Vernon Young Ladies’ Seminary. Right across the street, WAVES quarters were built. They started with three buildings and ended up with 25. The work was so important that there were three “watches:” 0800-1600, 1600-2400, 2400-0800. Day in and day out, Barbara worked with codes, including the Japanese Naval Code 25. Accuracy was most important, but she also had to be fast! When she finished a sheet, Barbara would hold it up and it would be taken to the next level. All the time, she felt the importance of doing this job, lives were at stake! In fact, their motto was “In case of air raid, keep working!” And of course, if anyone asked what her job was, she would downplay and say “a file clerk.”
When the war was over, Barbara returned to the states, married her Marine husband and settled down in North Carolina. Her husband’s job was at Camp Lejeune. They had one son and five daughters. Barbara was also able to go to college and got her degree in teaching. She then taught in public elementary school for two years. After this time, the family moved to Connecticut, where the children would have more opportunities for a choice of careers as they grew older. Barbara taught another 18 years in public school and then got her master’s degree in Library Science. She always knew there was a retirement place in D.C., but it wasn’t until she was being interviewed one day, that it was brought to her attention. Since her son lived in Arlington, she came for a tour and got on the waiting list. As of 2011, Barbara has lived at AFRH-W.