In honor of Memorial Day, I wanted to get this post written so others could offer an homage to some of the tough,brave women who came before them.
Not much has been said about the exceptional, but overlooked, service of women who volunteered for uniformed service in the U.S. military before the very idea of women soldiers, sailors and marines was an acceptable concept. I am personally proud and deeply honored to have had an aunt serving as WACS despite the gender and racial segregation imposed upon the units. So here’s to you women and women of color who gave all and endured all for their country.
From the article:
World War II was the largest and most violent armed conflict in the history of mankind…World War II was waged on land, on sea, and in the air over several diverse theaters of operation for approximately six years.
Over 150,000 American women served in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) during World War 11. Members of the WAC were the first women other than nurses to serve within the ranks of the United States Army. Both the Army and the American public initially had difficulty accepting the concept of women in uniform. However, political and military leaders, faced with fighting a two-front war and supplying men and materiel for that war while continuing to send lend-lease material to the Allies, realized that women could supply the additional resources so desperately needed in the military and industrial sectors. Given the opportunity to make a major contribution to the national war effort, women seized it. By the end of the war their contributions would be widely heralded.
The AAF was especially anxious to obtain WAACs, and each unit was eagerly anticipated and very well treated. Eventually the Air Forces obtained 40 percent of all WAACs in the Army. Women were assigned as weather observers and forecasters, cryptographers, radio operators and repairmen, sheet metal workers, parachute riggers, link trainer instructors, bombsight maintenance specialists, aerial photograph analysts, and control tower operators. Over 1,000 WAACs ran the statistical control tabulating machines (the precursors of modern-day computers) used to keep track of personnel records. By January 1945 only 50 percent of AAF WACs held traditional assignments such as file clerk, typist, and stenographer.
A few AAF WAACs were assigned flying duties. Two WAAC radio operators assigned to Mitchel Field, New York, flew as crew members on B-17 training flights. WAAC mechanics and photographers also made regular flights. Three were awarded Air Medals, including one in India for her work in mapping “the Hump,” the mountainous air route overflown by pilots ferrying lend-lease supplies to the Chinese Army. One woman died in the crash of an aerial broadcasting plane.
During the same time period, other branches of the U.S. military had similar women’s units, including the Navy WAVES, the SPARS of the Coast Guard and the (civil) Women Airforce Service Pilots. The British Armed Forces also had similar units, including the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force.
The WAC was disbanded in 1978. Since then, women in the U.S. Army have served in the same units as men, though they have only been allowed in or near combat situations since 1994 when Defense Secretary Les Aspin ordered the removal of “substantial risk of capture” from the list of grounds for excluding women from certain military units.
Sadly, the armed services were racially segregated during this time. Many, but not all, African Americans, male and female, were required to remain stateside for their service despite their wish to be sent abroad.
Maj. Charity E. Adams,…and Capt. Abbie N. Campbell,…inspect the first contingent of Negro members of the Women’s Army Corps assigned to overseas service.” 6888th Central Postal Directory Bn. 1945.
My aunt Lou was one of them. Her light complexion might have allowed her to “pass” for white and improve her chances for overseas assignments and higher rank. She refused to do so and served in a clerical position in New Mexico. But she sure looked good in her uniform! Here’s to you, Lou.