WAVES of HENSLEY FIELD, Grand Prairie TX

Marge Harrington, 94, poses for a portrait at Grace Presbyterian Village, a senior living and health service, in Dallas, TX on Oct. 5, 2015. During WWII, Harrington worked as a secretary for the US Navy in Arlington. Originally from Boston, MA, Harrington said she was thrilled to escape the Northeastern winters. Harrington said she met a sailor after the war and, with a laugh, added, “I now have 11 grandchildren and 27 great grandchildren. I can’t remember any of their names.”  She met him at Hensley Field in Grand Prairie.

Margie Harrington turned 21 in December 1942. A secretary at an insurance company, she’d never been far from her hometown, Boston.

“I joined the Navy to see the world, and I saw Grand Prairie,” she says.

Arriving at Union Station, the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) recruit was “heartsick” to see the paved streets, automobiles and tall buildings of Downtown Dallas. She’d thought it would look like the Old West of the movies.

“But that’s alright,” she says. “It was my choice.”

Harrington served all three years of her Navy career at Hensley Field. She started out as a secretary and went to work in public relations.

As part of her job, she met movie stars Robert Taylor and Tyrone Power when they visited the base. And she once spent an entire day with comedian Red Skelton, when he broadcast his national radio show live.

“He was a perfect gentleman,” she says. “He was cracking jokes the whole time.” It was a dark time in American history, but Harrington managed to serve her country while having fun.

The Navy traHensley Field Entrance Gateined fighter pilots at Hensley Field, hundreds of them, Harrington says. When the instructors flew solo hours to maintain their certifications, they would use sandbags to weight the planes. Sometimes, the WAVES got to “act like sandbags,” Harrington says. They regularly went tooling around in open-canopy fighter planes.

She also used her military I.D., good looks and charm to travel to San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Florida and other points. There was always a plane you could hop on, she says.

In December 1943, Harrington’s WAVES pals offered to take her to dinner at the Chicken Shack on Fort Worth Avenue for her birthday. She arrived early.

While she waited, four servicemen came in, all of them on leave. One by one, she says, each guy asked her to come sit at their table. She politely told them she was waiting for her friends. When they arrived, the waitress said, “I have a table for you.”

“She walked us right to those boys,” Harrington says.

Afterward, they went to a movie at the Palace Theater downtown. Seven of them piled into a car, and the tiny Harrington was the last one in.

“There wasn’t anyplace to sit but this sailor’s lap,” she says. “And, anyway, he’s the one I ended up marrying. So I sat in his lap before I even knew him.”

When she put in her papers in 1946, Harrington’s supervisor offered to make her a chief petty officer to re-up. By then, she was editor of the base newspaper. But she had been living in an open barracks with 100 women for three years and was ready to go home.

She attended Columbia University for a year before getting married. She and her husband, John Clayton Harrington, moved to his family farm in Ferris. They reared three children in Wilmer-Hutchins. They have 11 grandchildren and 24 great-grandchildren. Clayton Harrington died in 1994, and Margie Harrington moved to Grace Presbyterian Village in 2008.

She turns 94 in December, 2015.

Congratulations to Rachel Stone on another marvelous article for the Oak Cliff Advocate. This one appeared on Oct. 23, 2015.
Photos: 1936 Hensley Field at Grand Prairie and Marge Harrington.