U.S. Navy W.A.V.E.S. veteran celebrating 100th birthday


Jovita Enriquez Tellez, a U.S. Navy Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (W.A.V.E.S.) veteran, is celebrating a once-in-a-lifetime milestone on Feb. 15: her 100th birthday.

Tellez, a native of Luling, Texas, served in the U.S. Navy as a W.A.V.E. during WWII from 1945 to 1946. Tellez also has family ties to Seguin, Texas, where many nieces and nephews, Pete Mendez and Sylvia McPhail, reside. 

She is one of the last remaining U.S. Navy W.A.V.E.S. veterans. Tellez, also known as Jo, is a first-generation American whose parents migrated from Mexico in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Tellez graduated from Luling High School in 1944 and tried to enlist as a W.A.V.E. that same year, but the quota was already met. Moving to San Antonio, Texas, the following year, Tellez was able to finally enlist in June 1945 at the age of 21.

Tellez's decision to join the military was born out of a desire to serve her country.

"I joined the Navy because it was wartime," said Tellez. "It was WWII, so I felt I had to do something."
Tellez's father was very supportive of her decision to join the Navy. 

"When I told my father I was going to join the Navy, he supported my decision and responded in Spanish, 'It is a job worth doing,'" said Tellez. 
VJ Day was announced shortly after Tellez completed her training at USS Hunter Naval Training Center in the Bronx, New York. Tellez and her fellow W.A.V.E.S. were given a Memorable Day leave, going into New York City to join the masses filling the streets. Tellez remembers being part of crowds forming large circles made up of military of all branches and civilians.
"We cried, laughed and sang," said Tellez. "I was kissed by so many sailors, I don't know how many."
W.A.V.E.S., the women's branch of the U.S. Naval Reserve during WWII, was established by the U.S. Congress on July 21, 1942, and signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on July 30. This authorized the U.S. Navy to accept women into the Naval Reserve as commissioned officers and at the enlisted level, effective for the duration of the war plus six months.
Although W.A.V.E.S. was relatively small in the number of women who served and short in its span of existence (July 1942 to September 1946), an estimated 87,000 W.A.V.E.S. served in the U.S. Armed Forces in their time of existence. These women greatly impacted the positive outcome of the war and were directly and indirectly monumental in affecting the permanent existence of women in all U.S. military branches.

After her training, Tellez was assigned to Washington, D.C. Navy Yard serving as a Ship Serviceman (L) 3rd Class responsible for warehousing and shipping of military clothing to various naval bases and working at the Ship Service Exchange providing customer service and shipping of various items.
By September 1946, the demobilization of W.A.V.E.S. was all but complete. Though W.A.V.E.S. no longer existed, the obsolete acronym continued in popular and official usage until the 1970s.
"Serving as a W.A.V.E. in the Navy during WWII gives me a sense of pride in knowing I served my country, especially during wartime," said Tellez.
After her naval service, Tellez received an Honorable Discharge pin and was authorized to wear the American Campaign and Victory medals. Tellez then returned to San Antonio and enrolled in Durham Business College with a focus on stenography.
While in college, she met her future husband, Tony A. Tellez, who had recently served in the Army Air Corps. They were married in 1949 and have since been blessed with four children, seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Tellez became a stay-at-home mother during her children's younger years, helping her husband with his bookkeeping. She then worked in logistics at Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio retiring from civil service. Tellez now devotes herself to her family and her church. 

Upon the occasion of Tellez's 100th birthday, the Military Women Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, is recognizing her with a Living Legend Proclamation. Retired U.S. Navy Command Master Chief Octavia S. Harris, the Memorial's Texas Ambassador, will be presenting the proclamation on Feb. 25.
As a W.A.V.E.S. program participant, Tellez, and those she served with, played a role in changing history. Happy birthday to this American hero.