When Pearl Harbor was bombed on Dec. 7, 1941 and brought the United States into World War II, Ann Bjorneby and a couple of her girlfriends wanted to do their part to help with the war effort.
But living in the small town of North Buena Vista, Iowa meant no real opportunities to contribute. So the group put the names of three big cities — St. Louis, Detroit and Omaha, Neb. — into a hat and took turns drawing the city names. Two of them drew Omaha.
“That meant we were going to Omaha,” Bjorneby said.
Once in Omaha, she studied to be a mechanic and began working at a U.S. Army plant.
“I became a grease monkey,” she said.
Later, she served in the U.S. Navy Reserve. She moved to Seattle with her Norwegian boyfriend-turned husband, who had served in the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division and said they could only get married if they moved to the Pacific Northwest. The couple moved to Ballard in 1946.
“I think it was raining,” Bjorneby, who volunteered at the Leif Erikson Lodge in Ballard till she was 80 and currently volunteers at the Snohomish Senior Center five days a week, said about her first impression of the city.
The 94-year-old World War II veteran and Everett resident shared her story Tuesday morning with a group of fellow veterans at Lake Washington Institute of Technology in Kirkland.
They were there to be interviewed and have their stories submitted to the Library of Congress Veterans History Project. According to its website, the project was created in 2000 and “collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war.”
The reception and interviewing event was hosted by Rep. Suzan DelBene (WA-01), who personally interviewed Bjorneby for the project.
In addition to DelBene, members of the local Civil Air Patrol conducted video and audio interviews of the veterans who showed up Tuesday morning.
DelBene said her office got involved in the project because they wanted to make sure it included stories from this region. And while she represents Washington’s First Congressional District, she said people from the general area have responded to her office’s call for veterans to participate.
It doesn’t matter where they live, DelBene said. All that matters is that their stories are shared.
“As a nation, we have a duty to ensure the painful sacrifices made to protect our families and freedoms are never forgotten,” DelBene said in a press release. “I’m honored to team up with the Library of Congress to help preserve the stories of First District veterans for the Veterans History Project.”
She added that these interviews are happening across the country and that it is well worth a trip to Washington D.C. to go listen and learn about veterans’ stories.
There is no deadline for submissions and those who would like to participate in the Veterans History Project can contact DelBene’s office at (425) 485-0085.
Bjorneby said it is important to preserve her story and others’ because so much happened so many years ago during the various conflicts the United States has been involved in, but there are many people in the country who were not alive during those times.
“After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, my friends and I wanted to do something for the war effort,” Bjorneby said in the release. “It was such a difficult time for our country but there was a tremendous sense of community. I want to ensure future generations know about that part of our nation’s history and remember we can come together to prevail against adversity.”
Bjorneby said it is important to defend one’s country and to be loyal to one’s country.
She lives by the motto, “Love God, love your country and be the best you can be every day.”
It was this motto that led Bjorneby to quit her job in North Buena Vista — instead of taking just a leave of absence — and travel to Omaha at the age of 18, with only $15. She said she knew she would not be able to do her best unless she quit her job.
On Tuesday, DelBene and Ben Studley, a U.S. Navy veteran and veteran case worker and field representative in her office, presented Bjorneby with an American flag and special certificate of recognition to thank her for her service.
Upon receiving the honors, Bjorneby said she flies the flag for her late husband every day but she has never thought about a flag for herself.