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Navy memories, distinguished visitors on WWII WAVES veteran Yvette Vary's 100th birthday

Yvette Vary, who served with the Navy WAVES during World War II, celebrated her 100th birthday on Sunday at the Atria Bay Spring Village assisted living facility in Barrington, R.I.

DAVID DELPOIO/THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL

By MARK REYNOLDS | Providence Journal | Published: March 22, 2021

BARRINGTON, R.I. (Tribune News Service) — Yvette Vary was a bit cranky after she woke up on her 100th birthday Sunday morning.

“Ticked off,” is how the 100-year-old put it. The details don’t really matter; sometimes things just don’t feel so stellar on the morning of your 100th birthday.

But Vary is a Navy veteran who keeps it moving and her day perked up quickly.

Soon her niece, Lynn Ruggieri, was in the picture.

By the early in the afternoon, the Barrington High School Band was assembling in the springtime sunshine outside Atria Bay Spring Village.

Not too far away, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed and U.S. Rep. David N. Cicilline were headed toward a meetup point where a parade of cars and SUVs was taking form.

And U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Shoshana Chatield, president of the Naval War College, had heard about Vary’s birthday, too.

She was on her way.

Vary wasn’t so aware of all this as her niece helped her move outside, where a table with a birthday cake was set up.

Vary wore a navy blue blazer and a navy garrison-style cap bearing the insignia of the U.S. Navy’s WAVES program.

WAVES stands for Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service program.

Recruiting posters for WAVES, which was the women’s branch of the U.S. Naval Reserves, nabbed the attention of Vary and her sister Noella after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the start of World War II.

The two of them enlisted in 1944. Both were assigned to Davisville.

Their training class was featured in a Paramount movie musical titled “Hear Come the Waves,” starring Bing Crosby and Sonny Tufts.

Vary held the rank of seaman first class. She worked at Quonset Naval Air Station.

She recalled spending every penny of the $66 paycheck she received each month when Vary talked about her war-era experiences to a historian at the Naval War College in the 1990s.

“It didn’t feel like we were in Rhode Island,” she said. “We were out in the boondocks.”

She was honorably discharged in 1946.

After her active duty, Yvette went back to school and later graduated from Bryant College.

She stayed in touch with other WAVES members and alums.

Yvette also participated in an honor flight program.

A news release put out by Barrington Town Manager James Cunha, a Navy alum himself, says Vary took flying lessons at the age of 26 in 1947.

One time, she made an emergency landing in Chestnut Hill, Connecticut. The plane stopped just 50 feet from a local home.

Vary’s history as a pilot didn’t really come up as Reed and Cicilline arrived with formal proclamations and as the high school band played "Happy Birthday" and "Anchors Aweigh."

Then, Chatfield made her approach.

“I heard that once upon a time you learned how to fly,” said the rear admiral, who was in full regalia.

The president of the Naval War College in Newport is quite a pilot herself.

Earlier in her career Chatfield flew the SH-3 helicopter for the Navy.

Known as the Sea King, it’s a variant of the same helicopter that shuttled U.S. presidents. She also flew twin rotor transports and Black Hawk helicopters.

She has done many other things. She once commanded U.S. military personnel serving in western Afghanistan.

But here she was outside the front door of Vary’s assisted living facility on the second day of spring.

She thanked Vary.

“Because of all the things you do,” said Chatfield, “I got to do all the things I wanted to do.”

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Barrington resident Yvette Vary's 100th birthday was cause for a parade on Sunday, which included U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, U.S. Rep. David Cicilline and many others.
DAVID DELPOIO/THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL