www.mybaycity.com January 15, 2010
History Article 4535

WWII Marine Sgt. Christine Gavrila, 88, Featured in Detroit Documentary

"Arsenal of Democracy" Film Draws 4,000 to Fox Theater

January 15, 2010
By: Dave Rogers

Sgt. Christine Faber Gavrila in 1943 photo taken by Hollywood make-up artist Perc Westmore, who had done her make-up.
Christine Gavrila looks over her Marine Corps memorabilia at her home.

Christine Faber was a 19-year-old graduate of St. Joseph's Academy in Detroit in 1943.

World War II was raging and she decided to do her part by enlisting in the Marines. She thinks today that she joined to continue wearing a uniform as she had for 12 years at the Catholic school.

Nothing taught her by the nuns of the Immaculate Heart of Mary could have prepared her adequately for the adventures that awaited.

Her wartime experience, and that of dozens of veterans, is recounted in a documentary film presented recently in Detroit. "She thought of her destiny from the moment she heard of the Pearl Harbor bombing while driving with a friend down Jefferson Avenue," the film's program book stated. "When it comes to stateside labor, 'Rosie the Riveter' gets most of the press, but it's important to remember that an entire military infrastructure existed here with dedicated soldiers working around the clock to ensure an Allied victory."

A boy she had met from the Christian Brothers School next door to the academy, Octavian Gavrila, became a storekeeper in the Navy.

She would undergo training a Camp Lejune, North Carolina, detached duty at Santa Ana near San Diego, serve at the Mojave Air Base near Los Angeles, California, and be promoted to Sergeant.

After the war Christine and Octavian (Tavi) would be married and would move to Bay City, use the GI Bill to improve their education and job prospects, raise a family and gain hundreds of friends.

Recently Christine, now an 88-year-old retired school principal, was interviewed for a 90-minute documentary film, "Detroit: Our Greatest Generation." The film, produced by celebrity chef and promoter Keith Famie of Detroit, was aired Dec. 13 and 25 at the Fox Theater, drawing 4,000 people to the premiere performance.

A red carpet section in front of the Fox Theater was provided for the veterans, including Christine, who attended, saluted by current military personnel in full uniform.

Saginaw rock singer Stewart Francke sang with the 338th Army band at the premiere at the Fox with Detroit radio personality Paul W. Smith as master of ceremonies.

The film showings benefited the Michigan Chapter of the Paralyzed Veterans of America and honored all branches of the service. Christine herself was paralyzed slightly in a strange occurrence toward the end of the war and had to spend six months in a naval hospital in Corona, California, for special treatments.

One morning she awakened and her face had become stiff and contorted by some unexplained cause, somewhat like palsy. She couldn't open her mouth and had to be fed through tubes in her veins. A neurologist gave her shots and electric shock treatments and the malady abated.

Soon after Christine arrived in California for duty at Mojave, she and some of the other women Marines hitch-hiked into Los Angeles to go to the USO. While enjoying her leave there, visiting the USO, a distinguished man asked if he could "make her up," as kind of a favor for one of the service women. She agreed. As it turned out, he was famed Hollywood make-up artist Perc Westmore. She still has the picture he took of her after the make-up session.

Another memorable moment occurred when Christine and am other woman Marine were waiting for a light at Hollywood and Vine. A large man in a big car drove up and hollered loudly, "Get in, I'm taking you to lunch." It was movie star Victor McLagen and they were treated at the Brown Derby, fabled Hollywood eatery.

Sgt. Faber was in ordnance at the desert base where her job was to record the transfers of ammunition in and out, including trips far underground to take the temperature of the environment where bombs were stored.

"It was great," she recalled. "I could tool around in a jeep, dismantle carbines and haul water bombs. (Used for training on the bombing range.) I was the only girl in the whole outfit.

"It was a great job, and it was fun." It also was very dangerous. Some ammunition was disappearing and was being sold in LA. Working with the FBI, Christine was instrumental in catching the traitorous thieves and stopping the pillage of U.S. ammunition stores from the base.

Her brother, Robert Faber, a pilot, was stationed at nearby Camp Pendleton. He took her up in B-24s for flights over San Francisco Bay.

On R&R in California, she and some of the other women Marines visited Big Bear Mountain, near the ranch owned by movie star Leo Carillo. They didn't encounter the star but she still has a picture of his horse she took while on holiday.

After the war, and her six months in the hospital, Christine returned to Michigan, married Octavian and had two sons. The couple ran Tavi's Bar on Kercheval in Detroit near the Hudson and Chrysler factories. They did very well, taking patrons by the busload to Tigers and Lions games, videotaping them and playing the tapes at the bar after the games, thus boosting business.

Just as the GI bill eligibility was to run out, she decided to go to college. First she took a night class in History at Wayne State University. She nearly didn't attend because she was the only woman in the class, but the professor ran down the hall to catch her and convince her to stay. It was a fateful moment because that class started her out on a career in education.

When the bar was sold in 1959, the Gavrilas were looking to buy a trailer park. They explored several prospective parks in mid-Michigan and then, at their last stop, found the Oak Ridge Trailer Park on State Park Drive in Bay City.

She attended the County Normal Program at Bay City Junior College to get her teaching certificate and began to teach school along with running the business. She eventually became an elementary school principal in the Bangor Township Schools and got a masters in educational administration from Michigan State. Octavian went back to school at Central Michigan University and earned his counseling degree at Michigan State, so both the Gavrilas were in the educational field. Tavi was a counselor at Handy and Western High Schools until his retirement.

The Roll-Air Skating Rink on Beaver Road was their next purchase, and became a popular spot with the Battle of the Bands suggested by radio personality Bob Dyer of WKNX, Saginaw. Fellow teachers Bob and Ilene Darbee entered partnership in the Roll-Air Rink and Putt-Tee Golf and dances at the facility drew hundreds of young people for many years.

Christine has been on honor flights of veterans to Washington, D.C., as the nation continues to recognize the heroes of "the greatest generation." She has met hundreds of World War II vets, including former vice president Bob Dole, who has been on 68 honor flights.

She is working on her memoirs, that may involve a family documentary and a book. Her mother's family, Huffman, ran a bakery in Detroit near Eastern Market. She recalls going there as a young girl and talking through the bars to the Detroit House of Corrections inmates and giving them hard rolls from her grandfather's bakery.

A couple of years ago she returned to Hollywood with her grand-daughter, Annette Gavrila, a financial analyst with the Donny Deutch firm. The went to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. "I'd sure like to find Victor McLagen's star," Christine told her grand-daughter. "Gramma, you're standing on it," said Annette.

Tragedy struck the family when one of her sons, Danny, 35, died in an accident on a lakes freighter. He left a grand-daughter, Abby. The other son, Eddie, has three daughters. Tavi died in 1998, but Sgt. Gavrila marches on.###

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