Bob Herring first saw Bobbie Herring in the Denver customs house. She wore a fur coat and sat with a city boy in a brown, snap-brimmed hat.
Bobbie didn’t notice him at all. She was too busy breaking off her engagement to the boy in the hat. She wanted to serve and nothing, not even a man, could change her mind.
Bob and Bobbie enlisted the same day; he in the Navy, she in the Navy’s Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. Their service-issued insurance numbers were only three digits apart.
They wouldn’t actually meet for another year, when Bobbie would try to get into an engagement instead of out of one.
Bob, then 19, went to Idaho for boot camp. He shipped to Pearl Harbor in April 1944, destined for radio school and then the command center of the 14th Naval District for Communications. He worked his way up to supervisor, managing men who took radio and teletype messages.
Bob felt connected to Pearl Harbor since seven men from Encampment, his hometown, were there during the bombing. Only six came back.
Bobbie, then 25, went to New York for Naval boot camp and then trained at the Office of Naval Intelligence in Washington, D.C. She went to Pearl Harbor in August 1944 to be a secretary, part of the first group of WAVES to go overseas.
She settled into a cubicle that shared a wall with Bob’s. She took short hand, typed letters and filed forms. She also made a habit of knocking a clipboard over her cubicle wall onto Bob’s head. He didn’t think it was as funny as Bobbie did.
“It would be laying up there and I would walk by and go whewp and push it on him” Bobbie said.
She would giggle and he would grumble. Bob wasn’t interested in Navy women. He was working.
“He didn’t spend any time thinking about anything else. But we changed that didn’t we?” Bobbie said.
Their first date was a double date to Waikiki Beach as a favor to friends. Bob said he was too busy to get serious about a woman.
As senior supervisor in the communications office, he was in charge of all enlisted men and occasionally had to tell officers they were wrong. Officers didn’t like that.
One officer brought Bob a message to send. Bob said he was sorry, but couldn’t send it that way. If a message came encrypted it must leave encrypted, he explained.
“He told me he was an officer and a gentleman and I was nothing but a lowly sailor,” Bob said.
“That irritated me a little, so I wrote on the message that it was a direct violation of security and signed my name, date, security number and time.”
Then Bob went back to his barracks, showered, changed into a new crisp white uniform and went back to work, holding his arms out so he wouldn’t wrinkle. He knew what was coming.
The captain called Bob and the officer into his office.
There they stood, Bob in his perfect uniform and the offending officer looking like a disheveled mess after he’d had some Bloody Marys.
“The captain reamed him out for being out of uniform and it went downhill for that guy,” Bob said.
“And what happened to him afterward?” Bobbie asked.
“They shipped him to Johnson Island, a little spit of land in the Philippines,” Bob said.
Bob’s captain was also Bobbie’s captain. He was hard-nosed but fair.
Bobbie made sure she kept Bob around, asking him for help with tasks like caulking her new sailboat. She and two girlfriends had bought it together and named it the “Okole Maluna,” which meant “bottoms up” in Hawaiian. They pretended to sail the high seas.
“They never once asked me to sail in it,” Bob said.
“You never sailed our ship?”
“No. And it wasn’t a ship. That thing was a dumpy tub.”
After months of flipping clipboards, caulking boats and double dates, Bobbie thought it was time to get serious.
“She backed me up against a telephone pole one day and she said, ‘Will you marry me?’ And I said, ‘Huh?’ And she thought I said, ‘Yeah.’ And that is the truth,” Bob said.
“He’s not lying. I can’t deny it on that one,” Bobbie said.
Bob must not have minded much. They wed soon after Bobbie asked when he was 20 and she was 26. A Marine escorted the couple through Honolulu with red lights and sirens and the captain ditched a date with an admiral to attend.
Bobbie left the Navy since married women couldn’t serve. Bob stayed in until he was discharged in 1946.
They still hold hands in their house in Encampment, pictures of family covering the walls. On their living room table sits a silk bouquet of white lilies, identical to the bouquet Bobbie carried in their wedding.
She still giggles and he still grumbles.