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Women's Army Corps

  World War II Army recruiting poster advertising 239 kinds of jobs for women  

Beginning in October 1940, men between 21 and 35 were drafted for mlitary service and on December 11, 1941, the US declared war on against Japan's allies, Germany and Italy. As their husbands, sons and brothers left home, many American women asked, “how about us?” Acting as their spokeswoman, Representative Edith Nourse Rogers (Massachusetts) introduced a bill in May 1941 calling for the creation of an all-volunteer women's corps in the Army.

Initially, members of Congress, the press and the military establishment joked about the notion of women serving in the Army, but as America increasingly realized the demands of a war on two fronts (Japan and Germany), leaders also faced an acute manpower shortage. In May 1942, the House and the Senate approved a bill creating the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) and Oveta Culp Hobby, Chief of the Women's Interest Section in the Public Relations Bureau in the War Department and a lobbyist for the WAAC bill, became its first director. Although the women who joined considered themselves in the Army, technically they were civilians working with the Army. By spring of 1943, 60,000 women had volunteered and in July 1943, a new congressional bill transformed the WAAC to the Women's Army Auxiliary (WAC), giving Army women military status.

  WAC training class at Ft. Des Moines, Iowa.  

The Army opened five WAAC training centers and in July 1942, the first group of 440 women officer candidates (40 of whom were African American) and 330 enlisted women began training at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. Uniform supply was inadequate but it did not deter training. Except for weapons and tactical training, the women's courses paralleled those for Army men, as did their training circumstances. One WAC later remembered her basic training:

. . .falling out for reveille at 6:00 AM in the dark, below-zero weather in deep snow. . .the oversized man's GI overcoat which I wore over a thin fatigue dress. . .a typical sad sack GI shivering with a coat dragging in the snow. . .

One officer wrote

  Uniform distribution at Ft. Des Moines.  

We went through Officer Candidate School in tennis shoes, foundation garments, seersucker dresses with bloomers and gas masks. Apparently there was a supply mix-up somewhere in the pipe line. The overconcern with underwear by the male planners paid dividends. But they were not pink with lace. They were tannish and awful. Foundation garments, such as even our grandmothers would not have worn, did give us moments of hilarious parading in our barracks after the “study hour.”

In 1942, WAACs began deploying overseas. As the war continued, most overseas assignments were to the European Theater of Operations an over 8,300 served in England, France, Germany and Italy. Others deployed to the Pacific and the Far East. Five WAAC officers had a harrowing experience en route to reporting for duty at Allied Headquarters in Algiers, North Africa. The troop ship on which they traveled from England to North Africa was torpedoed by a German U-boat in the North Atlantic. A British destroyer came to the rescue and saved the women officers ando other survivors of the burning, skining ship and delivered them safely to Oran, Algeria. They lost uniforms, cosmetics and personal items and were smeared with oil and grit, but the welcoming party at the port brought oranges, toothbrushes and emergency items. Within a few days they were at work in Allied Headquarters.

  Members of the Signal Corps set up communications systems overseas  

Women performed their duties like seasoned troopers—even amid unhealthy and uncomfortable conditions. One women stationed in the Philippines explained,

We were warned to keep our sleeves down, wear our wool socks. . .watch out for wallabies (small rodent-like kangaroos that bumped under our cots at hight), tarantulas (dump boots every morning), and snakes. . .The tents were hot during the day and cold at night because we were sitting right on the Equator.

General Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Allied Commander, was among high-ranking officers praising the women. General MacArthur

. . .praised the WACS highly, calling them “my best soldiers,” and alleged that they worked harder than men, complained less and were better disciplined. . .he would take any number of the WACs the War Department would give him in any future command he might ever have.

The information in this article is excerpted from “Women's Army Corps: WAAC and WAC” by Colonel Betty Morden, USA (Ret.). Colonel Morden's essay appears in In Defense of a Nation: Servicewomen in World War II, edited by Major General Jeanne M. Holm, USAF (Ret.) and Judith Bellafaire, Ph.D., Chief Historian of the Women's Memorial Foundation (Arlington, Virginia: Vandamere Press, 1998).