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Mother and daughter remember the grandmother who joined the Navy at only 16

Two older women smile at the camera.
Dianne Burner and Demi Cross

A couple of summers ago, the non-profit StoryCorps hosted an oral history project here in Wyoming in which veterans and their families recorded honest and personal stories about their military experience. We’re grateful to share those conversations now with our listeners.

Today, we hear from 61-year-old Dianne Burner and her mother, Demi, as they recount fond memories of Dianne’s grandmother who joined the Navy in World War I, and stress the importance of passing on family history.

Dianne Burner: We have often talked about your mother’s service to our country when she was in the Navy. I would love it if you could tell, in your words, a little bit about Nanna and how she came to join the service.

Demi Burner: My mother went into the Navy at 16 years old, but the reason she did that, she wanted to leave the home. The reason I think that my mother went into the Navy was because her father was a real taskmaster, even to the boys in the family. And so, she felt like she wanted to go out on her own.

Dianne: Ah, so now we know where our strong womanhood comes from.

Demi: She went to the recruiter, and then the lady said, “How old are you?” And she said, “Uh, 16.” And she talked some more and later on the lady said, “You know, you have to be 18 to get into the Navy. How old are you?” After she already told her she was 16. And so she said, “Ok, it was alright.”

Dianne: Nanna said she was 18 when she was 16 so she could join the Navy? Oh my goodness.

Demi: Yes, can you imagine? It was also interesting because there weren’t very many women in those days in the Navy at all. And so all her life she was very happy, the big navy-blue coat that she had, it was something she was proud of that she did get in.

Dianne: She did it, she bucked the system, I guess. And having been to Wyoming and graduated from the university here, that’s what we’re all about, bucking the system. You came out to Wyoming and then Nanna and Papoo came out here later.

Demi: Yes, and Nanna and Papoo mean grandparents in Greek.

Dianne: So, they ended up in Douglas, Wyoming.

Demi: And mother died when she was 95. Let me say this, I wish that we will be able to find my mother in the waves because I want to know if there are people we could still get together with, you know? And all I need to do is keep working on it because there’s hardly anything about the women that were in the First World War.

Dianne: Having these memories and traditions and keeping them going for our children, that’s so important.

Demi: And I think we don’t pay attention as much, but I think it’s something we need to really take care of for our families.

Dianne: Nanna’s name was Esther Adelaine Galey. She was just always there for me, and always looked out for me and I was not easy. Well, and you said your parents always looked out for your welfare. I just want to say thank you for always looking out for my welfare, and my babies’.

Tor is originally from Wayzata, Minnesota and is a Sophomore Neuroscience and Film double major at Colorado College. He is particularly interested in documentary filmmaking, which led him to this opportunity where he can hone his skills of storytelling. He loves flyfishing and climbing! He has been listening to public radio for as long as he can remember, so he's excited to help tell the kinds of stories he listened to growing up.
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