Women had not yet been given the right to vote when Estelle Jargello Novak was born on June 3, 1919 to Polish immigrant parents in Detroit. Still, during World War II, Estelle helped blaze an inspiring path for women’s service in the military.
Eager to do her part, Estelle served as a member of the Women’s Home Defense and then enlisted in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) before it gained full status as the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) in 1943. Estelle was one of 150,000 American women who served in the WAAC and WAC forces during World War II, the first women, other than nurses, to serve in the Army (www.militarymemorialmuseum.com).
Estelle’s parents were proud of her decision and hung a blue star in their window, as was the custom for families with sons heading off to war. Her mother put embroidered lace around their star to indicate it was their daughter who was serving. (Estelle’s son, Jim, has written a song, “Blue Star in the Window,” to honor his mother: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1XBTONMq64M&t=1255s)
Estelle’s distinguished military career took her to the Pacific theatre in locations including New Guinea, the Philippines, Australia, and the Dutch Indies (now Indonesia). General Douglas MacArthur called the WAC “my best soldiers,” and his headquarters were in one of the buildings where Estelle worked.
Her assignment in New Guinea involved working with General George Kenney in Intelligence to track the movement of Japanese convoys in the region. “For a long time, I wasn’t allowed to talk about it at all,” says Estelle. Coded messages were sent from Army Air Corps and Navy pilots to her office where she would decode and map out the location of the Japanese. Says Estelle, “The General would check those maps in the morning and determine where he was going to send his ships and his planes.” She was promoted to Sergeant and then Technical Sergeant with many commendations and ribbons for her excellent service.
Estelle’s career in the Army came to an end when the bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. Upon her return home to Michigan, she attended a stenotype commercial college on the GI bill, married and had three sons. Her husband, Clarence, also a veteran, worked as an electrician at the Ford River Rouge Plant in Dearborn. In the 1970s, their family moved to Ann Arbor, and Estelle worked as a secretary at the University of Michigan for many years. They had been married for 63 years when Clarence passed away in 2012. Estelle currently lives at UMRC’s Chelsea Retirement Community.
In honor of Estelle’s 100th birthday in June, an American flag was flown over the U.S. Army Women’s Museum at Fort Lee, Virginia, and sent to her in a frame as a keepsake. She was also recognized by U.S. Senator Deborah Stabenow and U.S. Representative Debbie Dingell.
While none of Estelle’s sons followed their mom into the military, her granddaughter, Heidi Novak, now serves in the U.S. Navy. “I really encouraged her,” says Estelle. “I told her it would be the best thing that would ever happen to her… But now she always kids with me that she outranks me!”
“I had some wonderful experiences and I met some wonderful people,” says Estelle of her days in the WAC. “It was one of the best times of my life.”
To learn more about the United Methodist Retirement Communities and Chelsea Retirement Community, visit https://umrc.com/ or call 734-433-1000.