Over the fireplace in the Laclede Commons great room, there are five wooden statues, one for each of the branches of the Armed Forces in which a Laclede Groves resident has served. The one on the end – the little lady in the Coast Guard uniform – was made special for Mabel Stamm.
“I had a state service job in Illinois when (World War II) broke out in ’43. There were a lot of girls in my office signing up,” Mabel recalls. “A lot of them went into the Army, a lot of them went into the Navy. I don’t know why, but I said ‘I’m going into the Coast Guard.’” What made Mabel’s decision especially puzzling — even to Mabel herself — is the fact that she didn’t know how to swim.
“The first thing we learned was how to work in the water,” Mabel says. “Now, the government had taken over the Biltmore Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida, and even though they had a private pool, they put us out in the ocean our first day. Can you believe it?” The result: a lot of wipe-outs in the surf as the female recruits earned their sea legs.
While all of them understood the seriousness of what the war meant, Mabel remembers her time in basic training as one of the most exhilarating times of her life. “I remember marching on the drill field for this sergeant — a fella from Brooklyn,” Mabel says. “He had this accent, and we couldn’t help laughing at it. He was always saying, ‘Youse goyles knack it ahff!’ It’s a wonder we didn’t get disciplined.”
Because of an injury during basic training, Mabel ended up posted in that most land-locked of states: Missouri. In the Coast Guard’s office in the old Post Office building, Mabel served in the steno pool, taking dictation from a commander with “a horrible southern accent.” It seemed only a matter of time before typos would rear their ugly head. “This one time, I typed up a letter for him about a ship that needed a new girder fitted for it,” she says. “He called me in his office – apparently, I’d written a letter about a ship needing a new girdle!”
Today at the age of 92, Mabel still stays in good shape – something she partially attributes to her time in the service. “I belonged to the YMCA for 26 years, doing aerobics in the water. And when I moved here, I was still walking two miles every day,” she says.
“They really take good care of you here,” she says. “They check on you to make sure you’re keeping up with what you’re supposed to be doing to stay in good shape. I’ve made a lot friends here like that.”