June Beck grew up on her family’s farm in a small town in Maine and always had an appetite for adventure.

After graduating from Falmouth High School and going to USO dances in Portland, where she met some of the servicemen fighting in World War II, Beck decided to try something different. So she and a girlfriend enlisted in the U.S. Navy.

June Beck, a World War II veteran who served in the WAVES after growing up in Falmouth, celebrated her 100th birthday on Sept. 6. The key to her longevity: “Go outdoors and keep moving.” Photo courtesy of Gary Beck

She spent the next two years serving in a new volunteer branch of the military known as Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, the WAVES. She was stationed in New York City and worked as a clerk supporting U.S. Navy operations. While she never saw military action during the war the way her late husband did, Beck answered her country’s call and remains honored to have served.

“I feel like I was part of something,” Beck said during an interview this week in her assisted-living apartment in Portland. “I said, ‘Gee whiz, I was a veteran in World War II.’ It gives me a little bit of pride to say that.”

President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Navy Women’s Reserve Act into law on July 30, 1942, creating what was commonly known as the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service or the WAVES. The U.S. Department of Defense says the WAVES were a division of the U.S. Navy created to free up male personnel for sea duty during World War II. By the time recruiting ended in 1945, the WAVES had a force of 86,000 women and more than 8,000 female officers. They served in a variety of roles, from top-secret code breakers to office clerks such as Beck.

Beck, who celebrated her 100th birthday on Sept. 6, was one of an estimated 1,316 World War II veterans living in Maine at the start of 2021, according to the National World War II Museum. There are about 104,000 military veterans in Maine, according to U.S. Census data.

It has been a long journey, Beck said as she spoke about her military service and her life in Maine. “I don’t know how I got here,” she joked.

Beck was born in Falmouth and lived on her family’s farm on Woodville Road, where her father grew vegetables and raised chickens. He drove a wagon to take his products to the market in Falmouth and Beck would ride to the market with him. She often would walk home along a dirt road.

June Beck in 1942, in her WAVES uniform.

After high school, Beck began to realize that something was missing from her life. She had always liked being outdoors, preferring a trek in the woods, cross-country skiing, picking wild berries or doing yard work, to doing housework. She also enjoyed dancing, a pastime that she and her girlfriends took full advantage of during World War II. She said she looked forward to going to USO dances in Portland, a fun-filled evening and a chance to dance with a man in uniform.

But it still wasn’t enough. She was baby-sitting her sister’s infant son when she had a revelation.

“I’m sitting in the dark one night and I said, ‘What am I doing here?’ ” Beck recalled. “I said, ‘Darn it, I want some freedom for myself.’ ”

OFF TO BOOT CAMP

So Beck and her friend, Audrey Osgood, enlisted in the Navy in 1943. She was sent off to boot camp, where she spent most of her days scrubbing hardwood floors before getting transferred to a desk job.

“We knew it wouldn’t be easy,” Beck said, a smile forming.

She thoroughly enjoyed her time working for the Navy in New York City. WAVES ate well and were treated to free shows on Broadway, but she also realized the behind-the-scenes clerical work that she performed helped take the burden off the sailors and officers who were deployed at sea.

“The work was exciting,” she recalled. “We got educated the Navy way.”

During World War II, her future husband, George Beck, an Army sergeant, was fighting the Nazis in Europe.

The couple met at a dance in Falmouth while both were on leave from their military duties.

When she first saw him, June Beck said to her friends, “I like that guy.”

They stayed in touch and, after the war ended, they married. June Beck had retired from the Navy as a yeoman, second class.

The couple lived in government housing in the Redbank neighborhood of South Portland for the first few years of their marriage. In the early 1950s, they purchased a home in North Deering, where they raised their sons, Gary Beck and George Beck. She worked multiple jobs to help support her family.

June Beck did office work for Curtis Thaxter, a Portland law firm, where she got to work with some notable Mainers, including former Maine Gov. Ken Curtis and Kermit Lipez, who is now a judge on the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

‘GO OUTDOORS AND KEEP MOVING’

In 1974, Beck and her husband returned to Falmouth and built a new home. Her husband died in 1978, but she continued to live independently in her Falmouth home until she was 98. She stopped driving at 96.

Her sons celebrated her 100th birthday with a reception at the Woodlands Country Club in Falmouth. Gary Beck, who lives in Falmouth, arranged to have President Biden send his mother a birthday card.

Gary Beck said his mother has the heart and soul of an 18-year-old. Her love of the outdoors may very well have contributed to her longevity, he said.

“When she lived in Falmouth, nothing pleased her more than raking leaves. She kept raking leaves well into her 90s and we were worried about her, but it’s what got her up in the morning,” Beck said.

As for turning 100, June Beck shrugs it off as being just another birthday. Her secret to a long life is simple.

“Go outdoors and keep moving,” Beck said.

 


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: