Betty Mae Whitney Prieve was a Merrill, Wisconsin, native. She joined the United States Navy in 1942. She trained as an airplane mechanic in Norman, Oklahoma, before transferring to Lakehurst, New Jersey. In 1944, shortly after the combat related death of her brother, she volunteered for duty at Pearl Harbor and served until 1946 in the WAVES, Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, United States Naval Reserve. After returning home she married and had four children in five years. Eventually she divorced her husband and moved to Milwaukee where she became very active in the American Legion.
Photo of a Christmas decoration included in a scrapbook created by Prieve.
In a 2004 interview with John Driscoll for the Wisconsin Veterans Museum Oral History Program, she spoke about joining the Navy, detailed her training, and shared about her time stationed at Ford Island in Pearl Harbor. Prieve discussed her inability to return home for Christmas at the end of the war because she didn’t have enough points. Here, she recalls the evening she spent caroling with others throughout Pearl Harbor. Although she initially declined to join the group for their outing, it became a very special memory.
PRIEVE: It was Christmas Eve. And, you know, I always went to church and sang in the choir. And we had gone around. I went home after service because I knew I was going home in a couple weeks. So I went back to the barracks, and then a chaplain came up and he said, "Betty." I knew they were going to take a launch out and sing Christmas carols around the harbor. And he came up and he says, "We really need you." But I am not so, I went now. Because we went to some freighters and some tankers. And sang.
DRISCOLL: What a lovely thing.
PRIEVE: And then we came to the hospital ship. And it had only docked that afternoon, and we start singing Christmas carols. And the boys came out in hospital gowns, helping each other, on crutches, wheelchairs. And they kept us singing and singing. And then when we said, we really have to go. And they said they wanted to sing a song back to us. And they sang, "I'll be home for you, if only in my dreams."
DRISCOLL: Wow. What a beautiful, beautiful story.
PRIEVE: And then we went around, you know, I don't know if you know it, but Pearl Harbor is like a clover leaf. And then on this side, we were invited to sing. I was trying to think of the flat top. And the off deck, aft deck, had a bomb that hit there, and we were late, too late for everything. And they said, "Come back and eat Christmas dinner."
DRISCOLL: How nice. Yea. Wow. That is a beautiful story.
PRIEVE: But I can't hear that song.
DRISCOLL: Oh, I can imagine. Sure. Wow. What a beautiful story.
During the full-length interview, Prieve talks about a scrapbook she donated to the Wisconsin Veterans Museum. The images included here were found in that very same scrapbook. Below are additional images which have been preserved digitally from the original item.