Rosann “Rose” Mary Simons was born on the 15th of November 1923 to William and Effie Simons in Springfield, IL. She attended Springfield High School, where she was a member of the Cafeteria Council and the Spanish Club. In her senior biography in the 1941 edition of the Springfield High School yearbook, Simons expressed an interest in teaching young children as her career path: “Little children hold so vivid an interest for Rose Mary that she plans to make kindergarten teaching her life work.” Little did Simons know that the following December would see the United States enter the Second World War, forever altering the course of her life.
After the Japanese attack on the US Naval base at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, the US military mobilized for war against the Empire of Japan. As part of this mobilization effort, the US military sought to secure as many military men for combat readiness as possible. Since these men would be leaving support jobs in the military to take up combat roles, their former jobs would have to be filled by other people. It would be counterintuitive to replace these men with other men who could serve in combat roles, so high rank military and governmental officials decided to open up enlistment opportunities for women. The Army created the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps as a supplement to the Army proper. For the Navy, however, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox saw the need for a different path: “Knox insisted that if women were going to work with classified or sensitive information, they must be an integral part of the naval reserve—not an auxiliary to it.” Thus began the recruitment of the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service: the WAVES.
Simons would be one of the women who bravely enlisted to serve their country in the war. These women were not permitted to serve in combat roles, but instead served in a variety of support roles. The WAVES recruitment brochure lists a number of civilian careers and skill sets that the Navy thought valuable in their recruits:
There is a place in the WAVES for women with experience in practically every field of business and industry. Have you worked in an office as a typist, secretary, operator of business machines, filing clerk or bookkeeper? You will find ready use for your skill. Have you sold merchandise or checked stock in a store? Do you know anything about radio, telegraphy, photography? Did you ever work in a library, serve at an information desk or telephone switchboard, do tailoring or sewing? Have you a mechanical ‘bent’? If so, your knowledge and experience will be valuable to the Navy.
Given Simons’ later line of work as a CIA and FBI secretary, it is likely that she worked in a secretary or clerical role while in the Navy. Simons must have shown promise and aptitude as a sailor because she would rise to the rank of Specialist 1st Class before the war’s end. Ultimately, Simons and her fellow WAVES showed remarkable duty and aptitude during their service that would directly lead to women’s full inclusion in the Navy:
They volunteered; they were not drafted. They helped to dispel myths and stereotypes assigned to women in uniform. They enhanced the legacy of women who supported the nation during previous wars, conflicts, and crises and paved the way for those who followed. Before World War II ended on 2 September 1945, aboard USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, naval and congressional leaders reflecting on the women’s contributions considered granting them a permanent place in the peace time services. After some debate and compromise, Congress passed the Women’s Armed Forces Integration Act on 28 July 1948.
It can thus be said that Simons’ service as a sailor of the WAVES contributed to a permanent transformation of the Navy.
Following the war, Simons worked for the federal government in the CIA and FBI, as mentioned above, until her retirement. On August 21st, 1974, she married Alfredo Bocanegra. Though Alfredo tragically passed away thirteen years later, he and Rosann had three children before his passing. Rosann Bocanegra would spend the rest of her life as a mother, grandmother, and great grandmother; a sure source of joy for the woman who once aspired to be a Kindergarten teacher. Sadly, after a long battle with illness, Rosann Mary Bocanegra passed away on January 3rd, 2002. She left behind the legacy of a trailblazer in women’s military service, and a heroine who rose to the challenge when her country direly needed the help of its women.