Marines in love: Young recruit served her nation as war effort began to wind down
Editor’s note — World War II and Korean War veterans visited Pearl Harbor earlier this year as part of Honor Flight Nevada’s first trip to Hawaii. The end of World War II in both Europe and the Pacific occurred 75 years ago beginning with Victory Europe Day in May, followed by the Japanese unconditional surrender in August and the Instrument of Surrender on Sept. 2, 1945.
Peggy (Palomino) Cavin doesn’t consider herself an inspiration for young women although many would disagree with the Marine Corps vet who enlisted during World War II.
As a young woman, the former Hawthorne resident served for 22 months in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1943 to when World War II began to wind down, sealed with the surrender between the Allies and Japan on Sept. 2, 1945. On an Honor Flight Nevada trip in 2020 to Pearl Harbor and Marine Corps Base Hawaii at Kaneohe Bay, young female Marines surrounded Cavin, extending their hands in friendship and asking for photos to be taken with her. Sailors at Pearl Harbor also talked to Cavin about her service as did other veterans.
During her enlistment in the 1940s, Cavin confided other Marines said she had the best females in the Corps under her leadership. A diminutive woman, she didn’t let her 5-foot frame interfere with the way she managed the Marines assigned to her. She had prior practice in developing her leadership skills with her siblings.
Cavin came from a family of five girls and one boy. She said her big brother signed up for the U.S. Army Air Force, but recruiters informed him he couldn’t serve because he had four children at home.
“He was very patriotic,” she said. “That left only one of us able to serve so I joined the Marine Corps.”
After enlisting in 1943, she completed her basic training before attending the cooks and bakers school at the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C. Although the United States and its allies were slowly pushing back Japan and Germany, she didn’t know how long she would serve until mid-to-late 1944 when key battles inflicted significant damage on the enemy.
“We signed up for the duration of the war,” she said, which seemed like an open contract to the thousands of Marines who enlisted.
From North Carolina, she headed west to Miramar, 14 miles north of San Diego, where the Navy trained on one side of the base, and the Marines on the other with artillery and armor. Both Navy and Marine pilots, though, trained on the same side. Cavin, who was classified as a messman or mess sergeant, served with about 200 other female Marines, and they ran the mess hall.
“All my duty was stateside,” she said. “I never went overseas because the war was almost over. So, I stayed at my duty station.”
And Cavin’s glad she remained at Miramar.
Cavin met a fellow Marine who took a liking to her. On a hiking trip with friends, she encountered a group of male Marines, but one of the men asked for her name and phone number. Donald Cavin, a decorated veteran who would marry her after the war, produced strong ties to Nevada having grown up in the mining camps of Rosebud, Leonard Creek, Rose Creek, Gold Point, Goldfield and Tonopah before enlisting in October 1942.
The final 18 months of the war tested their love and commitment. Donald, an aviation ordnance specialist, deployed to the western Pacific with Marine Fighting Squadron 322. VMF-322 was involved with the amphibious landing on Okinawa in April 1945, one of the final major offensive attacks against the Japanese Imperial Army.
Two weeks after the war ended, Peggy left the service, and with Don later returning to the mainland, they decided to marry in Boston in October. One month later, the Marines honorably discharged Donald, who held the rank of technical sergeant.
“We got married right after,” she said, smiling, and proudly reminding those standing next to her Donald was also a fellow Marine.
Because of Donald’s training in ordnance, the Hawthorne Naval Ammunition Depot (later becoming an Army depot in 1977) hired him as a journeyman. During the early 1950 when the Korean War was raging, he completed two civilian tours to Japan and Korea to support the war effort. Donald rose up through the ranks at the ammunition depot before retiring in 1979 as the production chief and civilian manager for the depot.
The Cavins lived in Hawthorne for 57 years before relocating to Reno. They had five children, three who served in the military: two in the U.S. Air Force and the other one in the Army. When Donald died in 2013 at the age of 89, the Cavins had been married for more than 67 years and were pillars in the small Nevada town where their children attended school in Mineral County. They supported community events such as the annual Armed Forces Day Parade in May and veterans organizations. The Cavins became benefactors of the Hawthorne Ordnance Museum.
For 40 years, Donald, a Distinguished Nevadan, served both elected and appointed positions on the Nevada Wildlife Commission.
Looking back at her life, Peggy expresses no regrets. She credits her son William, her guardian on the Honor Flight trip, for helping her enjoy the five days in Hawaii. The visit still gave her an opportunity to reflect on her family, her service and especially the time with fellow veterans including those young female Marines at Kaneohe Bay.
“We signed up … we were all willing to serve,” she said. “The trip meant a lot to me and to the people there. I’ve never seen such happiness and cooperation.”