Based on two interviews conducted by Paul Stillwell in October and November 1986, the volume contains 123 pages of interview transcript plus a comprehensive index. The transcript is copyright 2013 by the U.S. Naval Institute; the interviewee placed no restrictions on its use.
This memoir covers the experiences of a naval pioneer. Collins was among the first officers accepted when the WAVES were established in 1942; one of the first female officers commissioned in the regular Navy, which happened in 1948; and at the top of her profession as the only woman line captain at the end of her career. She was selected for the Navy experience as the result of being one of the first five women to undergo Harvard Business School training, which she studied at Radcliffe College in 1937-38. She received naval officer training at Smith College in 1942 and subsequently served there as personnel officer until 1944. She served 1944-46 as a personnel officer for the 14th Naval District in Hawaii and from 1946 to 1950 with the Potomac River Command and Bureau of Naval Personnel. She was on the staff of the Secretary of Defense, 1950-51. After postgraduate study at Stanford University, 1951-52, she was personnel officer on the 12th Naval District staff, San Francisco, from 1952 to 1956. She served 1956-57 on the staff of Commander in Chief U.S. Naval Forces Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean (CinCNELM) in London. Her final tour of active duty, 1957-62, was as Assistant Chief of Naval Personnel for Women.
In this selection from her first interview with Paul Stillwell at her apartment in Washington, D.C. on 29 October 1986, CAPT Collins relates her first meeting with FADM Nimitz and his aide -- her future husband CAPT Collins -- in Hawaii in October, 1944, and how that meeting changed the Admiral's thoughts on the WAVES.
Captain Collins: Then I went back to BuPers, and in 1944 the law was passed which permitted women to go outside the continental limits.[*] Hawaii was selected as the place they would go. Captain McAfee called me, and I was then a lieutenant—I think a legitimate one.[†] I don’t think I was spot promoted to that rank. She said, “I want you to be ready to leave in a week to go to Hawaii to prepare and find out the kinds of assignments and so forth for 5,000 women officers and enlisted. So I arrived in Pearl October 30, 1944. It was a tremendous job. The Navy was going to have WAVES on three different islands.
Admiral Nimitz was very much opposed to having women out there, because he said he had enough trouble as it was.[‡] And I would agree that he did, but three days after I arrived there, I got a call from his aide. He said, “The admiral would very much like you to come to luncheon.”
I said, “Well, I’ll have to call you back. I don’t know what I should do.” So I went to my captain, who was also a Naval Academy recall. He said, “Are you sure that Admiral Nimitz wants you to come to a luncheon?”
I said, “Yes, sir, I heard from his aide, and I said I’d call him back.”
Paul Stillwell: Now, who was the captain then?
Captain Collins: Captain Lewis.
Paul Stillwell: What was his job?
Captain Collins: He was director of personnel for the 14th Naval District.
Paul Stillwell: So you were attached to the naval district staff?
Captain Collins: Yes, I was on the headquarters staff, and he said to me, “Well, by all means. You have to go. Call him back and say you’ll be very honored to accept.” And he said, “I’ll get you a sedan and a driver.”
I said, “What’ll I wear?”
He just roared. He said, “You’re in the Navy. You wear that same little uniform you have on.”
It was that awful gray seersucker. I don’t know if you ever saw it or not. I used to call it the mattress cover, because I detested it.
So the day came, and I went to Admiral Nimitz’s quarters. He was up in Makalapa, and I climbed a lot of steps going up there.[§] I went up, and there were the admiral and the aide. Obviously, I was scared to death, but Admiral Nimitz was so charming and so delightful. He took me in his little den there, and he gave me a memorable poster, which was a cartoon about Navy women before the law was passed. It showed a Helen Hokinson parlor pigeon wearing an old fore-and-aft hat on the forward part of a battleship.[**] So he endorsed that for me, and then I went in, and he had his whole operational staff there. Well, I thought, “I just pray I get through this,” because Id never seen so many high-ranking officers in my life.
Paul Stillwell: You must have been overwhelmed by it.
Captain Collins: I was. I was scared to death, frankly. But Admiral Nimitz was so dear to me, and he, I guess, recognized I was scared. I tried not to show it, obviously, but he introduced me to all of them. Somehow I got through the luncheon all right. Afterward a captain by the name of Collins, who was his operations officer, said he would escort me down the steps to my car.[††] So I went down, and the Marines saluted me, and I saluted them back. I remember that very distinctly. I got in the car, and I thought, “Well, I guess I did all right.”
A week later, they were having a reception in Pearl Harbor for Admiral Nimitz, and I was invited to it. As I went through the line, I went up to him, and he said, “Oh, Lieutenant Quick, you certainly made history.”
That made me feel very good. I thought, “Well, I did all right, I guess.”
He said, “I must tell you, you’re the first lieutenant in the history of the Navy who blew a kiss to the commander in chief and hasn’t been court-martialed.”
That was his delectable sense of humor. He said, “When Captain Collins came back,” he said, “I was laughing and laughing. Did you see what happened?”
“And he said, ‘No, I didn’t.’”
He said, “Lieutenant Quick blew me a kiss.”
I never knew I did it, so that was a surprise.
Paul Stillwell: Was there any substantive discussion at the lunch, or was it mostly small talk?
Captain Collins: I don’t even remember. I imagine it was small talk. I have no idea. He probably asked me where the women were going to be assigned, and I did know that pretty well, because I knew the three islands. I hadn’t visited a lot of activities. I’d been there only a couple of days, you see. So we probably talked about that, I’m sure, and my vast knowledge was displayed quickly to him. You never met him, did you?
Paul Stillwell: No.
Captain Collins: He had a fantastic facility in just putting you totally at ease, really. Otherwise, I think I probably would have fainted, because it was a big change for me in my limited nautical experience to be confronted with that kind of situation.
Paul Stillwell: Well, the lunch, itself, though, was a way of telling you that he had overcome his reservations.
Captain Collins: Oh, no question. Well, what I was going to tell you what he said when Captain Collins came back. He said, “I told him that you’d blown me a kiss.” And he said he told Captain Collins, “You know, things are certainly going to change here in Pearl Harbor, but I kind of like it.” Wasn’t that precious? That’s the way he was. After that he thought the WAVES were great. But he didn’t know before that, and I could well understand his reluctance to have women on top of all of his other problems: the Japs and MacArthur and now women.[‡‡]
[*] BuPers – Bureau of Naval Personnel.
[†] She was promoted to lieutenant on 1 October 1944.
[‡] Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN, Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas, 1941-45. In December 1944 he was promoted to fleet admiral, a five-star rank.
[§] Makalapa is the name of the area near Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, where Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet maintains his headquarters.
[**] Helen E. Hokinson was a staff cartoonist for New Yorker magazine.
[††] Captain Howard L. Collins, USN, later her husband.
[‡‡] General Douglas MacArthur, USA, was Commander of the Southwest Pacific Area. He and Nimitz had decidedly different strategies for fighting the Pacific war.