Former pinup, vets mark the anniversary of the end of WWII
By DEBORAH STRASZHEIM | The Day | Published: August 15, 2015
GROTON, Conn. (Tribune News Service) -- At almost 94 years old, Mimi Orkney of Groton doesn't look quite like she did in the mid-1940s.
But during World War II, she was "Miss Periscope," the pinup girl for submariners in the U.S. Navy during WWII.
Her picture was sent to every naval submarine after she won a beauty contest at Ocean Beach in 1944, and was named "the girl we'd most like to see through a periscope" by fellow coworkers at Electric Boat, according to a New York newspaper.
Orkney was among more than 100 veterans, family members and friends who attended a ceremony Friday at Fort Griswold Battlefield State Park to remember the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, and to honor both those who served in battle and fought on the home front.
"Everyone contributed to this effort," Groton City Mayor Marian Galbraith told the audience gathered under a tent. "We were a united front."
Sometimes, people still call Orkney by her old nickname at the Shennecossett Yacht Club, she said. It's a little embarrassing, she said, adding "I mean, I'm so old and they still call me Miss Periscope."
George Hyland, past national president of the Fleet Reserve Association, read the names of dozens of people who served during the war, including Ernest Plantz of Gales Ferry, whose submarine was sunk and who was captured and held prisoner for 1,297 days.
Jewell "Deen" Brown, commander of the Eastern Connecticut Chapter of the U.S. Submarine Veterans of WWII, spoke about the detonation of the atomic bombs in Japan.
"Horrible weapons they may have been," he said. "But by some estimation, these weapons potentially saved millions of Allied forces and Japanese military and civilian lives."
Brown called himself "one of the blessed," as one in five serving in submarines in the Pacific did not survive.
Though Navy forces led the conflict in the Pacific, it was the combination of power and planning by all American forces and their allies that led to the end of the war, he said.
In addition to the military forces and nursing corps, it was American "industrial might," national resolve and determined men and women on the home front that served as the engine for the war.
James Streeter, town historian and a U.S. Army veteran, spoke of rationing to guarantee a minimum of everything to everyone and of "victory gardens" grown in Groton to supplement food.
He recalled Boy Scout troops who collected scrap metal used to build weapons, residents who salvaged paper, used to make blasting powder, and cooking fats, used to make explosives.
In June 1941, Electric Boat employed 5,500 workers who built six submarines a year.
By the end of 1944, the company employed 12,000 welders, electricians, machinists and others, 16 percent of whom were women. In 1943 and 1944 combined, the company launched 48 submarines, Streeter said.
William Hart, 83, a Groton resident and veteran of the Korean War, said his father served in the U.S. Coast Guard during WWII. Hart also had another connection to the event: Joseph Moxley, Hart's grandfather eight generations back, died at the Battle of Groton Heights at Fort Griswold.
Hart said he was pleased to see dignitaries attend the remembrance, like U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, and state Sen. Andrew Maynard.
"It's important to continue on the tradition," Hart said.
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