TEXARKANA, Texas — Well-wishers gathered Friday to celebrate the 100th birthday of an Ashdown, Arkansas, native and veteran of World War II.
With a party at her current home, Cornerstone Retirement Community, friends and family celebrated the life of Mary Sue Mills, including her stint serving as a welder in the U.S. Naval Women's Reserve, better known as the WAVES. Mills wore a sash that read "100 and Fabulous."
From 1943 to 1945, her part in the war effort was to become a skilled welder working at bases in Norman, Oklahoma, and near Pensacola, Florida. Her official title was aviation metal smith, but everyone called her a tin-bender. She earned $96 a month.
President Franklin Roosevelt had created the WAVES, short for Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, in 1942. By the time recruiting ended in 1945, the group boasted a force of 86,000 enlisted and more than 8,000 female officers, around 2.5% of the Navy's total strength at the time, according to an article published by the Department of Defense.
"There was a purpose for you being there and that you were needed. You also realized that couldn't go home, and that was a sobering experience. But the U.S. Navy was the very best thing that ever happened to me in my entire life," Mills said in a 2005 interview for a Texarkana Gazette profile.
Mills, known as Sue, grew up in Ashdown the daughter of a clock repairman and graduated from Ashdown High School. In 1941, she graduated from Arkansas State Teacher's College, now the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. Soon, though, she realized teaching was not for her.
After a short time working at a chemical plant, she enlisted in mid-1943 in Amarillo, Texas, and went through boot camp at the Naval Training Center at Hunter College in the Bronx, New York. Her memories of her service include big swing band performances and baseball star Ted Williams training on the base, as well as sailors who had been injured aboard the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier.
Her discharge from the navy stated "Mills was 1st class in every respect, always ready and willing, a lady neat, clean, and always on the job."
Her return to Ashdown was also a return to her childhood sweetheart, another Mills named Archie. The two married in 1960, and the union lasted until Archie died 35 years later.
For many years, she worked as a placement interviewer for the Texarkana State Employment Office, interviewing applicants, taking detailed orders from employers, and screening and referring employees.
A talented artist, Mills over the years loaned paintings for display at the Little River Historical Museum. She was a member of the Little River Arts Council and helped bring the Mid-Summer Art Show to Ashdown. She has also been active in the Little River Historical Society.