Making WAVES

Joan Manda Mueller ’43 is about to celebrate her 100th birthday.

Joan resides in Miami Shores, a small suburb in South Florida, with her children scattered around the country. In 2021, she was honored along with other local veterans at a luncheon at the Coral Reef Yacht Club, where she is a member of the ladies sailing group.

Joan joined the Women's Navy Reserves (WAVES) in 1944, shortly after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Public Law 689, creating the WAVES. Inspired by her two brothers who also served in the military, Joan decided to follow in their footsteps. Her Navy journey began at Lakehurst Naval Air Station, and she later received assignments in Hawaii, NAS Melbourne and NAS Banana River. Joan had the distinction of being among the first women allowed to serve overseas. Despite being a college graduate, Joan turned down an offer to attend Officer Candidate School because she wanted a physically demanding role.

“I didn’t want some desk job,” Joan said. “I wanted to do something physical. Really do something!”

She became a parachute rigger, 3rd class (PR3C), working alongside male colleagues to pack parachutes. Their meticulous work involved folding and refolding massive parachutes at a breakneck pace, inspecting and packing a chute in just three minutes. Her journey took her from silk to nylon parachutes, but she herself was always clad in practical light blue overalls.

“What they lacked in elegance, they made up for in practicality with lots and lots of pockets,” Joan said.

Joan's post-war life was no less remarkable. She met Commander Ralph Swearingen in Hawaii and relocated to Puerto Rico, where they started a family. After his passing, she found love again, marrying Frederick Mueller. In 1954, the couple relocated to Florida and continued to grow their family with the birth of their daughter and two sons. Together, they owned an art gallery in Miami Beach, traveling Europe to collect art. Their mutual love for culture brought them to South Florida.

Throughout her life, Joan was active in women's clubs, the Daughters of the American Revolution and the American Legion. Notably, Joan spearheaded a project in the 1980s to replace a World War II memorial that had been destroyed in a car accident in Miami Shores. Instead of recreating the memorial in the same location, she transformed it into a park — The World War II Memorial Park in Miami Shores.

As she reflects on her service, Joan, 99 years young, humorously admits, "I'm just sorry I never got to jump out of an airplane and try one of the parachutes I packed!" Joan Mueller's life is a testament to the strength, determination and dedication of women in the armed forces. We thank her for her service.