AUBURN — Margaret Thomson Jordan Ramsay was 8 years old and living in her native Scotland when her family moved to Massachusetts. By the time she turned 21, she was serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

“At that time, everyone was anxious and interested in what was going on, and I wanted to help; I wanted to do something,” she recalled, so joining the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service — World War II’s women’s branch of the United States Naval Reserve — was a natural choice.

Ramsay grew up in South Hadley, Massachusetts, near Westover Air Field, and majored in business in college. During that time, military men on leave often visited the USO in nearby Holyoke, Massachusetts. “They came by the busloads,” she said.

One day, her church sent four or five “hostesses” to the USO. “That’s where I met my sweetheart,” she said of U.S. Army soldier Norman Jordan of Bethel, “and he was such a wonderful dancer!”

“Our purpose was to get them into church,” she said, “but we didn’t tell them that if they would go with us to church, they were also invited for a home-cooked meal with our families.” That surprise turned into a budding romance.

Not long after, Ramsay told her family she wanted to enlist in the Navy. “My father had served in the British Navy, so no one objected to it when I said I wanted to join.”

She recalls traveling alone by train to Boston for her entry examination. When she finally arrived home late that night in 1943, her father was playing the Navy hymn on the piano.

Ramsay traveled to Hunter College in New York for WAVES boot camp. “It was mid-December, and we had to march — outside. They kept us busy, marching regardless of the weather. It was so cold they issued us ‘Snuggies,’” she recalled. “You had to march!”

Ramsay said she had always been in a choir, even at boot camp, where she and others helped set up for (U.S.) Bond rallies, prepared for celebrity appearances with superstars of the day, including Tyrone Power and Errol Flynn, and sang military songs on stage.

Her first assignment was Milledgeville Base in Georgia, where she was destined for “storekeeping, which was really bookkeeping.” After several months, the Navy sent her to her final destination, Green Cove Springs, Florida, at a Corsair Base for the American fighter aircraft that saw service primarily in World War II and the Korean War. She oversaw 600 accounts and was tasked with making sure everyone got paid.

Ramsay calls those days “exciting times,” as she experienced “a plane ride in a two-seater to go to a nearby island and make payroll.” Before her discharge as a petty officer, second class, she passed the examination for petty officer, first class, “but because they had so many in the unit, it didn’t take effect.”

She and Jordan — one of 15 children with seven brothers serving in the U. S. military — married in 1944. Shortly thereafter, her husband received orders to report to North Africa, “and you don’t ask” she said of his duties there. “He was a great guy.”

They were both discharged in 1946, “and at that time, if your husband got out, then you could be discharged, too. Otherwise, I would have stayed in longer. I probably wouldn’t have made it a career, but I would have stayed,” she added.

During his tenure with the Army, Ramsay said, her husband “would cut hair for the other fellows,” leading to a post-military career. “After that, he started in as a barber in Mechanic Falls,” she said.

The couple ended up settling in Auburn, where their children attended school, later moving to Mechanic Falls to be closer to Jordan’s work. In the process of raising their family, tragedy struck. “He had heart problems; he had a heart-attack at 38,” she said, leaving her with five children, including a three-month-old infant.

Over the years, Ramsay took jobs allowing her to watch out for the children, working as a bookkeeper at Harold Goss’s hardware store for the regular hours it afforded, then at summer camps when her kids were out of school. “I knew my boys were safe,” she said, taking on swim instruction and water safety duties during those times. “I always try to help people,” she added.

Some years later, when her nest was empty, her high-school sweetheart wandered back into her life. “He had been in the Navy, too,” she said. She and Donald Ramsay were married 1999. “We had eight years together,” before he passed away, she said.

At 96, Ramsay still works out at the gym about three times a week and is just as sharp there as she is with her words and memories. She has made friends at the gym, including assistant manager Leslie Wakefield Miller, herself a retired U.S. Navy chief petty officer, who served from 1986 through 2006 as an information systems technician.

“She’s a part of history,” Miller said, “and there’s not a lot of that history left.” Miller said she was amazed to meet a female who had served in the Navy during WWII.

“In this day and age, it’s not unusual for me to meet other women who are serving or have served in the Navy,” she said, “but Margaret is such an inspiration, both for her service and for her determination to stay fit.”

Miller noted Ramsay never uses a handicapped spot nor does she park nearest the entrance. “She always parks as far away as she can,” Miller noted. 

For Ramsay, it’s just another way to remain healthy, and included in that attitude is a determination to keep in touch with others “who are still around,” she said.

“Serving in the Navy was a great experience. I made good, solid friends, and I don’t regret it at all,” she said.

At 96, Margaret Ramsay of Auburn still hops on the treadmill about three times a week. She and Leslie Wakefield Miller, assistant manager at Orange Circuit Fitness in Auburn, share a love and respect for the U.S. Navy. Miller, a retired chief petty officer, served from 1986 until her retirement in 2006 and was a member of the commissioning crew for the U.S.S. Chaffee, built in Bath. (Linda Galway photo)

Margaret Ramsay of Auburn grew up in South Hadley, Massachusetts, near Westover Air Field. Military men on leave at that time often visited the USO in nearby Holyoke. Ramsay said that one day, her church sent four or five “hostesses” to the USO. “That’s where I met my sweetheart,” she said of U.S. Army soldier Norman Jordan of Bethel, “and he was such a wonderful dancer!” They later married. (Photo courtesy of Margaret Ramsay)

When she was 21, Margaret Ramsay told her family she wanted to enlist in the Navy. “My father had served in the British Navy, so no one objected to it when I said I wanted to join,” she says. (Linda Galway photo)

“I try to wear this every day,” said Margaret Ramsay of Auburn, who served with the U.S. Navy during World War II. (Linda Galway photo)


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