BRISTOL BOROUGH >> Thank you for serving, First Class Pharmacist’s Mate Mary Dolores Schreiber German!
“When my husband said someone in Bristol wanted to interview my Mom [Mary German], I didn’t make the connection until I noticed your name written down on the paper! She’s so excited to be interviewed by you! She’s very proud of her military service. Her father was in WWI, she and my Dad, John German, were in WWII. I love Bristol Borough and am so happy you’re doing this for my Mom!” said Barbara German Kairis, Bristol High School Class of 1971.
Almost 80 years ago, on July 30, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was most often referred to by his initials FDR, signed the Navy Women's Reserve Act into law, creating what became commonly known as the WAVES ”Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.” This was in response to the need for additional military personnel during World War II.
WAVES could not serve aboard combat ships or on aircraft and initially were restricted to duty in the continental U.S.A.
Late in WWII, they were authorized to serve in certain U.S. overseas possessions, and a number of them were sent to Hawaii. At the end of WWII, there were well over 8,000 female officers and ten times that many enlisted WAVES, about 2-1/2 percent of the Navy's total strength.
Mary Dolores [Schreiber] German was a senior in the 1942 Bristol High School class when she quit school. *She did receive her certificate of graduation at a class reunion in 1962, presented to her along with a jewelry case.
Mary began her working life as a “sandwich & salad girl” at the local restaurant on Buckley and Locust Streets.
Shortly after, she started a new job, working at the industrialist, shipbuilder Henry John Kaiser's [1882-1967] “Kaiser Industries” that acquired Fleetwings in 1943, and renamed the company Kaiser-Fleetwings Corporation. Kaiser-Fleetwings played a significant role in the production of aircraft and aircraft components during World War II.
“I worked in the ‘dope’ room to make wings stiff, then as a time keeper,” explained Mary. “Each job had a ticket and then when they changed a job, they got a different ticket to show how long it took to do the job. I worked along with Thomas Fagella.”
Mary was born in Bristol when Warren G. Harding was President, and she grew up in the Borough on Pine Street next to the railroad. Train tracks commonly went through towns, quite close to residential neighborhoods.
“The trains burned coal and all the cinders would come down into our yard until the railroad put up a 5’ wall.”
Her paternal grandmother and an Aunt had owned the twin home, and her grandmother gave them the house. “Grandmother Schrieber watched us!”
Mary has a younger sister, Catherine “Kaye”, who is 94. She had two brothers, a late kid brother, Joseph and a late older half-brother, John Brehm who served in the Navy.
Mary shared, “My mom was a very good cook. I loved her dumplings and onions and cole slaw. She even made her own noodles.”
They purchased their provisions from Brudon Wallace and Frank H. Flum’s on Mill Street.
Mary’s mother, Dora [Rio] Schrieber was born on the ship as they docked in Philadelphia on her way to America, so she was declared a US citizen. Mrs. Schrieber worked at the T. L. Leedom Carpet Mill.
“She had long dark hair and was a very beautiful woman.”
Her father, Joseph Aloysius “Joe” Schreiber, served in the Army Infantry in WWI and he belonged to the American Legion. He was an only child. “My father worked on the ferry boat that went to Burlington Island and it was when he worked as a tool and die maker at Kaisers, that he was able to buy a Pontiac car!”
Mary attended the Bath Street Elementary School and she walked home for lunch every day.
Her favorite subject was Arithmetic. She liked her civics and art classes and was quite interested in chemistry, but she confirmed, “I hated history!”
She liked playing soccer and when she was about 12, she and a group of her girlfriends in the neighborhood started a baseball team just for girls. “We even played football in the field!”
Mary never owned a bike.
At that time, girls only wore dresses.
What were the hair styles? “I always wore my hair in a neck-length page boy.”
Times were rough. “I grew up in a poor family, so I got hand-me-downs from two cousins in Philadelphia.” She wore ugly brown stockings in the winter and mainly tie shoes with laces.
“But I had patent leather slippers for church.”
Most of her shoes were purchased at WW I Pvt. Joseph S. [1871-1948] & Angelina Moffo’s [1870-1950] shoe store on 309-311 Mill Street.
She recalls that she especially enjoyed the opportunity to eat at the King George Inn.
Mary traveled into Philadelphia and she enlisted in the Navy in November1943, and served until January 1946. She began boot camp in Hunter College in NY that November.
There is NO liberty or leave during boot camp.
The U.S. Navy had taken over four Bronx buildings of Hunter College in New York City, NY, and it was the only municipal college chosen for military training of the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service [WAVES], and The United States Coast Guard Women's Reserve [SPARS].
Her daily routine included waking up at 5:30 a.m. and having breakfast at 6:30 a.m. The WAVES attended classes and did drills for four hours before and after lunch.
She was then stationed to Bethesda, MD in the National Naval Medical Center where she took her R.N. training.
She had wanted to work in hospitals. She really wanted to go to CA, but the quota had been filled, so she began working in the Marine Corps Barracks in the cafeteria in Washington, D.C.
Mary met an Officer with the same last name as her’s: Schreiber, and with help, it was arranged for her to go to CA, into the surgical ward as a nurse’s aide.
As she was quite petite, only 5’2, she was sent to work in the Officer’s Ward and she worked along with Dr. Labrecht.
“I did get to meet a 6’5 pilot in Livermore, CA and he took me up in his plane!”
When Mary was discharged from the Navy, she moved back to Bristol and took some time to spend with her family. She met her future husband, John German, at a dance in Langhorne. He belonged to the Bucks County Rescue Squad and worked on the ambulance.
Mary always enjoyed ballroom dancing, and she happily at a later date, had the opportunity to dance at the Moose on 33rd & Sample Road in California.
John German had served on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific and survived Kamikaze attacks.
He was once asked, “What was it like, the whole world at war?” He replied, “We didn’t know when we woke up in the morning, if we’d be alive when it was time to go back to sleep”.
She and John married in Elkton, MD and after living in several different homes, they settled back in Bristol on Mansion Street and raised their two children, Barbara [German] Kairis, and John “Rocky” German, who works in show business.
When her family was grown, Mary returned to California where she took a position at North American Aviation, a major aerospace manufacturer, creating reports and graphs regarding failed parts. She later took at job at Avex, Inc., making valves and pumps for shuttles, until she retired and moved to Florida.
She currently resides in Palm Coast and belongs to the Florida American Legion Post No. 115.
“I am very proud to be the oldest Legionnaire at the Post,” said Mary, who recently received a lifetime membership card.
“Most people today, especially the young adults, have no clue what that generation did to ensure our freedom," shared her son-in-law, John Patrick Kairis, Woodrow Wilson High School Class of 1971.
John served in the US Navy from 1972-82 on destroyers, and his father, John E. Kairis, flew on a patrol bomber as a gunner in the Pacific. At one time the squadron had a 55 percent casualty rate!
John’s father died in 1969 while working at Rohm & Haas in Bristol.
“Mary’s service is part of history and it should be preserved somewhere,” he confirmed.
These Americans, the primary participants in World War II who were shaped by the Great Depression, are part of the greatest generation this country has ever seen.
We have a sacred obligation to honor our veterans and their families for their service and commitment to our country.
Thank you for serving. We can never repay you!
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