A young Buffy Lin Levasseur had finished her high school education in 1986, while employed as a sitter for a military family at Ft. Carson, Colorado. Inspired by a number of relatives who had served in various branches of the military in both World War II and Vietnam, she chose to pursue an interest in joining the U.S. Marine Corps but failed to achieve one of their initial enlistment requirements.
“I was very thin and could not meet the minimum weight requirements,” she chuckled in reflection. “No matter what I tried to do or eat, I couldn’t gain the weight and the Marines would not give me an enlistment waiver,” she added.
She soon found favor with the U.S. Navy and was granted a waiver for her weight. In 1988, following her enlistment, she traveled to the Orlando Naval Training Center, which became the sole basic training site for enlisted women in 1973. (The installation was closed in the mid-1990s as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission.)
“I had signed up to become one of the Seabees (Navy construction battalions), but I was injured during boot camp and lost my slot for the school while I was recovering,” she said. “I finally finished boot camp after being there for 13 weeks, attended Fireman Apprenticeship Training, and was stationed on the USS Yosemite (AD-19) at Mayport, Florida, as an ‘undesignated’ fireman sailor.”
Shortly after reporting to her initial duty assignment aboard the destroyer tender, Levasseur discovered they would soon be getting underway.
The March 2, 1988, edition of the Pensacola News Journal reported, “The USS Yosemite, the only ship from Mayport Naval Station with women on its crew of 870, has set out on a six-month tour of the Mediterranean …” The news source further noted, “The Yosemite crew was among five ships and five aircraft squadrons that left Monday to join a battle group supporting the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower.”
Although Levasseur was not assigned a specified duty classification when checking aboard the vessel, she was provided training in a number of industrial-related specialties. She was soon placed in the rating of “patternmaker” but feeling it lacked an appropriate level of challenge, went on to train as a “hull technician.”
“It was an old, pre–World War II ship and there were always repairs needed and interesting jobs that were outside my current rating and field,” she said. “The learning never stopped aboard ‘The Busy Lady’ or ‘YoYo’ as it was called.”
She continued, “They also had me doing a multitude of woodworking tasks, the most important of which was to help build crates used to pack and transport the replacement and repair parts that were manufactured aboard our ship for the destroyers in the fleet. In the carpentry shop, we also made ceremonial plaques, decking, trim work, and general carpentry for other ships in the fleet.”
There were occasions when she was given instruction on methods to repair fiberglass used in the protective casings for the deck guns. Other times, she was shown basic welding and plumbing procedures employed to ensure the vessel remained in operable condition.
Several months later, the Yosemite returned to its homeport in Florida, at which time Levasseur married her fiancée. Not long thereafter, she made the decision to enter an inactive status in the Navy Reserve since she began to experience complications with her first pregnancy while stationed in Florida. In 1991, she gave birth to her first son but returned to active duty a few months later.
“The Navy assigned me to the USS Acadia — another destroyer tender — that was in the process of preparing for a deployment in 1992,” she explained. “We were sailing somewhere off the coast of California when I began to feel ill and they evacuated me to Balboa Hospital (Naval Medical Center in San Diego).”
Through a number of tests, the medical staff at the military hospital discovered that the sailor was pregnant with her second child and suffering from a form of gestational diabetes.
She said, “That’s when I made the decision to go in the Navy Reserve once again, but I volunteered for a number of temporary active-duty assignments,” she said. “That’s where I remained until I received my discharge in 1996. After that,” she added, “I returned to the Jefferson City (Missouri) area.”
Challenging news came for the former sailor in 2005, when she learned she had multiple sclerosis. Despite the disheartening diagnosis, Levasseur has not allowed these medical challenges to define her character or dim her immutable spirit.
“For several years, I provided administrative support and medical assistance for three local doctors,” she said. “I also worked part-time at O’Reilly delivering auto parts and in the warehouse at Cowley Distributing. Now I do some bookwork, online work, and social media for Kas A Designs in Jefferson City,” she added.
There were also many years that she volunteered with the U.S. Naval Sea Cadets since her sons were involved with the organization. She became the local organization’s executive officer and beams with pride when sharing that both of her sons went on to serve in the military.
She divorced in the years after leaving the Navy, but later met U.S. Army retiree Dan Levasseur, and the couple married in 2013. Since then, they have become actively involved with American Legion Post 5 in Jefferson City.
Pondering the many interesting experiences from her time in the U.S. Navy, Levasseur mirthfully remarked that her only regret was not being able to fulfill her dream of serving in the Marine Corps. She maintains, however, an unyielding pride in the service she rendered and is grateful for the lessons and memories she accrued during a formative period of her life.
“It helped form the person that I am and taught me responsibility and a sense of duty,” she asserted. “I wanted to be there—I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America