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Laura Rapaport Borsten, 91; Last of Original Officers in WAVES Program

August 13, 2003|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Laura Rapaport Borsten, the last surviving member of the Navy's original handful of officers in the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, or WAVES, has died. She was 91.

Borsten died Monday in Studio City of a stroke.

After President Roosevelt signed legislation enabling women to enlist in the military in 1942, the Navy quickly sought educated women with a decade of professional experience to jump-start the WAVES. The first cadre of 40 officers would organize and train thousands of young women to handle noncombat recruiting, clerical and teaching jobs during World War II.

Laura Rapaport, a native of Wishik, N.D., had graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1933 and was working in New York City as director of international relations and social legislation for the National Council of Jewish Women when a professor friend alerted her to the new opportunity.

The swearing in of Rapaport and four other women was so extraordinary in 1942 that their photograph and accompanying stories were printed in dozens of newspapers and magazines.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday August 19, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction
Borsten obituary -- An obituary on Laura Rapaport Borsten, 91, in Wednesday's California section incorrectly stated that she was the last surviving member of the Navy's original officers in the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service [WAVES] during World War II.

Her first job as a new WAVES officer was to teach recruits ship and aircraft history -- something she had to teach herself first. Next she was assigned to registering and assigning duties to the approximately 1,800 WAVES recruited each week.

Stationed in Honolulu as a transportation officer, she eliminated racial discrimination in the women's corps before male superiors could start it, insisting that if women of different races wore the same uniform they could share the same jobs and living quarters.

Rapaport, who achieved the rank of lieutenant commander, described her wartime experiences in the memoir, "Once a Wave: My Life in the Navy 1942-46."

She spent the year after the war in Honolulu, mustering out WAVES and closing their facilities there.

Then she moved to Los Angeles, where she married Orin Borsten and ran the Los Angeles chapter of the National Assn. of the Visually Handicapped until her retirement in 1967.

In addition to her husband of 57 years, she is survived by a son, Joseph Borsten; a daughter, Joan Borsten Vidov, and a grandson of Studio City; and a sister, Lillian Minkowski of Santa Cruz.

A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday at the National Cemetery in West Los Angeles.

The family has asked that, instead of flowers, memorial donations be made either to WAVES National or to Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation Inc.

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