Now residing at the Villa, she believes she was part of the ‘Greatest Generation’
Pearl (Okeson) Goosen turned 91 years old on October 22, but she is just as sharp as ever. While her mind flooded with old memories, she recalled in an interview with the Times what it was like to be a member of the military so many years ago.
She grew up in Battle Lake, Minn. on the farm with her two brothers and sister. Her parents meant the world to her and high school was just about over. Pearl began to think of what she wanted to do in the future and the military came to mind. No one in her family had ever been a part of the military before and one of her close friends was also interested. They both decided to join.
Pearl and her friend found a place within the ordnance of the U.S. Army in 1943 called the Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois. Before starting at the arsenal, Pearl and her friend did training for three months in a machine shop ran by the National Youth Administration. After training, they worked for one year. The Rock Island Arsenal is located on the Mississippi River between the cities of Davenport, Iowa and Rock Island, Illinois. It has been an active manufacturer of military equipment and ordnance since the 1880s. Pearl was on the assembly line making machine gun barrels at 65 cents an hour. She ran a lathe that turned the barrels down from a square shape to round. The arsenal's quota was quickly filled and workers were asked to be moved to another department. Pearl enjoyed working in the shop, but wanted more.
Since they were now 21 years old, Pearl and her friend decided to go to the Navy recruitment office to sign up. In September 1944, they walked in and saw a sign that read, "Women Accepted Volunteer Emergency Service" which they gladly signed up for. They had to be released from the Army and could not have any children in order to join. Once they were cleared, they had to wait, at least, one month before basic training. In November 1944, they took the train from Chicago, Illinois to New York City, New York. The Navy had taken over Hunter College in the Bronx for training. They were there for six weeks and received two navy blue uniforms and three summer dresses to wear. During their training, they were asked to be a part of the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade and gladly accepted. The military was toward the end of the parade, in uniform, and recognized as those waiting to ship out.
After basic training was completed, Pearl waited at the barracks for two to three weeks while the Navy decided where to send her. During this time, she found out, the Navy and FBI were investigating her family in Battle Lake to determine if she was someone they could trust. After their investigation, they asked her to join the Naval Intelligence of Communications in Coding and Teletype in Washington D.C. Pearl sent and received highly secretive code messages to and from the state of Hawaii, the city of San Francisco and London, England. They were jumbled five letter words that resembled the German language. She didn't know what they meant, but did her job. Pearl did know, however, that she had to be absolutely 100 percent accurate every time in sending the codes. There were even Marines guarding the building day and night because of the job's importance.
"You couldn't tell anyone you worked in the code system, not even your parents because it was that secretive," Pearl recalled.
She met many people from all over the United States whom she became friends with while she lived there. One nice thing was "we were paid the same as the men and treated the same," recalled Pearl. She was glad that they didn't have to march or do exercises after basic training, though.
Pearl was in Washington, D.C. until August 1945 when the war ended. During her time there, besides work, she got to see all the historical sites including going to the top of the Washington Monument and Capitol Building. Pearl, unfortunately, did not see the White House but remembers when Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States, died in April 1945. When the war ended, communications were resolved. Pearl was moved to Arlington, Virginia to the Navy Annex where she did secretary work in eight hour shifts. She lived at the Arlington Farms across from the Arlington Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Pearl enjoyed her time there and once took a ferry down the Potomac River to visit Mount Vernon.
She was honorably discharged from the Navy in April of 1946. They first asked her if she would like to stay in the Navy and she quickly replied, "No. I want to go back to Minnesota!" Pearl missed her family, especially her parents. She also mentioned how miserable the summers were on the East Cost with the humidity and no air conditioning. Once discharged, she had the choice of a few benefit packages including the G.I. bill. A friend mentioned something called the "5220 Club" where war veterans would receive $20 per week for 52 weeks. While at home, Pearl signed up to be a part of the club. She lived at home on the farm with her parents until 1950 when she married a disabled Army soldier named Herman Goosen.
Pearl and Herman moved to Crookston, and she has lived here for 60 years. The Goosen's raised four children before Herman died in 1968. Pearl is now a member of the Disabled American Veterans and lives at the Villa St. Vincent. She talks about how much she enjoyed being in the service and often wonders what happened to her friends from so many years ago. Pearl is proud to be a war veteran and considers herself part of the greatest generation of people to have survived the 1930s and 1940s.