Wanata Ashcraft, WWII Navy WAVES veteran, dies at 92
BY TIM STANLEY World Staff Writer
Sunday, October 28, 2012
10/28/12 at 7:48 AM
CLAREMORE - Although Wanata Ashcraft enjoyed her spin with John Wayne, she knew a real World War II hero when she saw one.
He was only playing the role. There was a big difference.
Still, for the young Weleetka native - who some would say qualified for hero status herself - it was a moment she'd never forget.
A resident of Camp Pendleton in southern California, where her husband, a Marine Corps officer, was stationed, Ashcraft got to dance with Wayne at a cast party for "The Sands of Iwo Jima" in 1949.
Parts of the movie were being shot at the base, and her husband was serving as an adviser.
Ashcraft, who was pregnant at the time with her first child, said Wayne "was a very nice man," said her daughter, Lu Poole of Clare-more. "It was definitely a highlight for her."
If Ashcraft had had more one-on-one time with the star, she could have told him plenty of stories about the real war. Maybe enough for another movie, even.
It had really begun for her seven years earlier.
It was that year, 1942, that a young serviceman to whom Ashcraft was engaged had been killed while serving in the Pacific.
Resolving to find a bigger way to do her part, she had promptly enlisted. As a member of the Navy WAVES, the women's branch of the Navy, she would work as a cryptographer, helping win the war by breaking the enemy's codes.
Wanata Troxel Ashcraft, who for the last 20 years made her home in Claremore, died Oct. 18 at the Claremore Veterans Center. She was 92.
A graveside service was held Oct. 22 at Wetumka Cemetery in Wetumka under direction of Rice Funeral Service of Claremore.
"She was on her way to San Francisco to see him when she read his name in the paper," Poole said of the jolting way her mother learned that her fiance had been killed at Guadalcanal.
They had not known each other long after meeting in Washington, D.C.
Ashcraft, who graduated from high school in Weleetka, had moved there to work for the Social Security Administration.
But now, with the war suddenly becoming so personal for her, that was over. Ashcraft left to join the WAVES - Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.
After attending WAVES school at Oklahoma A&M, she returned to Washington, where she was assigned to the Cryptography Division.
Trained in the top-secret work, Ashcraft and other WAVES were soon helping break Japanese codes.
She would receive a commendation, in fact, for her part in deciphering coded enemy communications during the Battle of Midway.
Serving from 1942 to 1945, Ashcraft would eventually be honored with her name's inclusion in the registry at the Women in Military Service for America memorial in Washington.
While she was working as a cryptographer, she met the man she would marry: Milton Ashcraft, a Marine Corps officer.
Milton Ashcraft made a career of the Marines, serving in both World War II and the Korean War and earning multiple decorations.
But in the summer of 1949, between wars, he was at Camp Pendleton, where he was called on to assist with the filming of "The Sands of Iwo Jima."
In addition to cast parties, the Ashcrafts ate dinner many nights with stars Wayne and Forrest Tucker, as well as with other cast and crew members.
To Poole, it's no surprise that the Duke might have wanted to dance with her mother. Watermelon Queen of Weleetka in 1939, Ashcraft had movie-star looks, she said.
After living in New York for a few years, Ashcraft moved back to Oklahoma in the late 1960s and went to work at Tinker Air Force Base.
She worked there several years before retiring. Ashcraft's husband died in 1985, and in 1990 she moved to Claremore to be near family.
Her survivors include three children, Rena Welch, Wallace Ashcraft and Louise "Lu" Poole; six grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.
Original Print Headline: Navy WAVES veteran had supporting role in WWII
Tim Stanley 918-581-8385
Wanata Ashcraft of Claremore, pictured here as a member of the Navy WAVES in World War II, worked in the Cryptography Division, helping break Japanese codes. Ashcraft, 92, died Oct. 18 at the Claremore Veterans Center. Courtesy