When Inez Foley was doing intelligence work while serving in the Navy during World War II, officers for the different military branches often roamed Washington, D.C.
Foley, who was working at a facility at Ward Circle, said their presence posed a unique issue.
“There were so many, that saluting was abolished in D.C. because you couldn’t walk down the street without giving or returning a salute,” Foley said inside her son’s home near Burkittsville Thursday afternoon.
Foley, 99, has lived in Frederick County since 2003, when her second husband died in Florida. She was born on April 12, 1920, in Washington, D.C., has raised three children and lived in Japan, Mexico, England and throughout the D.C. region.
She spent her first four years in McLean, Virginia, and then moved to D.C. where she graduated from Theodore Roosevelt High School in 1937. Shortly after, World War II started.
Pearl Harbor happened on Dec. 7, 1941. Then, the Navy started admitting women for volunteer emergency service in November 1942, Foley said. She enlisted in January 1943, and was sent to basic training at Hunter College in the Bronx in March of that year.
Foley served in some capacity for the Navy for 32 months, finishing in November 1945, roughly three months after the war concluded. She still swears by the oath not to reveal any of her work. She did say, however, it involved Japanese merchant ships.
Foley said it was a privilege to serve the country.
“We were losing the war, and we didn’t go in the Navy to meet men. The men were gone. We replaced the men, let’s get that straight,” Foley said.
She said everyone was personally affected by the war in some way.
“Everybody had somebody in a branch of the service, a father, a husband, a son, and eventually, a daughter,” Foley said. “It was an all-out effort by everybody in the USA.”
That included her brother, Kenneth, who served in the Coast Guard in Texas. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, he was sent to Seattle to serve in an anti-aircraft unit.
Foley faced challenges before the war started. Her father, Walter, died of pneumonia before she turned eight. He was 39.
But there were triumphs. Foley, an avid singer, earned herself a spot on a choir at Calvary Baptist Church, a large institution in D.C. That, however, didn’t start out smoothly.
As part of the audition, the church’s choir director asked her to sight read material she hadn’t previously seen.
“He said, ‘Oh, you can’t sight read worth sour apples,”” Foley said. “I said, ‘Oh, excuse me, I’m sorry I wasted your time,’ and I started to leave. And he said, ‘I didn’t say you didn’t have a voice … I’ll put you in with a good sight reader beside you.’”
Along with singing, Foley enjoys artwork of scenery and gardening. She also enjoys sewing, but with her age, there are complications, she said.
“Part of being 99 is I have 10 numb fingertips,” Foley said. “Things like that are very difficult to deal with.”
She is also a part of a local chapter of the national non-academic sorority Beta Sigma Phi, where she met Linda Galloway, a friend of more than 10 years. Galloway said that despite Foley’s age, she is still “chatty” and can speak on a variety of topics.
“She’s an absolutely wonderful person,” Galloway said. “And she can cover almost any subject.”
Foley had the following advice for the women in that chapter, and others, on how to live a long life.
“Good genes. Moderate lifestyle. Never lose your sense of humor. And moisturize, moisturize, moisturize,” she said.
Over the years, working in the Navy and traveling the world has taught Foley a valuable skill, she said — how to get along with people.
For more than 10 years, she has enjoyed the Frederick County landscape.
“I’ve lived in Mexico, Japan, and then England and I’ve had tours in different parts of Europe,” she said. “We’ve got perfect scenery here, you don’t have to go anywhere … it’s all right here in Frederick County.”
When asked the secret to staying mentally sharp, she said daily crossword puzzles help.
But it’s also just staying interested and getting along with people.
“Being interested in other people and being interested in our country and politics,” Foley said. “Not in the ugly way of politics, but we have to deal with politics to keep the country running, for better or for worse. Stay aware of the state of the nation. Be interested in the whole world.”