July 31, 1998 |
selection showed sailors' family leaning
By CAROL COMEGNO
have Betty Grable's legs.
But Harolyn Meyer had the cutest little baby
face, so the crew voted her pinup idol of the battleship USS
Most military men during World War II favored
movie stars for their pinup girls. But when these 3,000 crewmen
voted on the hundreds of photos of Jersey girls posted in the
mess hall of the ship before it left the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard
for World War II service in the Pacific, a 3-month-old baby posing
nude on a satin blanket was the winner.
Today, she is Harolyn Lawton, 54, a schoolteacher
and mother of three sons. Her family had lived in Newark and
Clifton. But Lawton has since moved to Wilton, N.Y., near Saratoga
Crew members recall not only choosing the
baby picture but giving $1 each to buy war bonds that were put
toward a college fund for the infant.
"There were a lot of nice photographs
of women in bathing suits and shorts. They were posted in the
galley. Then there was this one baby picture sent in by a grandmother
and we found out the baby's father was in the war," recalled
John Horan of Cherry Hill, a crew member who then lived in Brooklyn,
"It must have made the ship's chaplain
very happy when we overwhelmingly voted for the baby's photo."
Russell Collins Jr. of Palmyra, another first
crew member, remembers making the choice, too.
"We raised $3,200 from the crew and the
war bonds it bought went toward putting her through Caldwell
College for Women," said Collins, who received a letter
from her after she graduated from college. He said he knew she
was a teacher but did not know where she now lived.
In an interview from her home in upstate New
York, Lawton said she has not seen the ship since attending its
recommissioning in Philadelphia in 1968. She has not corresponded
with former crew members for many years but said she would like
to meet some of them if they hold a reunion.
"The money for college was a big help.
My father was an officer who had been a POW in a German camp
in World War II," said the sixth-grade teacher.
She said being selected as the ship pinup
means more to her today than it did when she was a child or when
she attended the recommissioning as a young adult. She said she
feels a "sense of loyalty and bonding" with the ship.
"When you mature you have a much better
idea of war and what it meant. I realize how it feels now when
your sons and daughters are not close to home," she said.
"I did not fully understand what those boys had gone through
and why having any pinup girl was important to them."
She said the crew's selection of her picture
symbolized their strong connection with home and families left
"It says a lot for the men on the ship
that they chose a symbol of the family instead of someone with
pretty legs and a pretty face," she said.
She said she would like to see the ship come
to New Jersey as a museum but does not have a preference for
"It should be an easily accessible site
in very public view. Otherwise, you are demeaning the importance
of that ship," she said.