With the necessity of fielding
armies to wage a two-front war, America needed more manpower than was
available. America needed its women in uniform.
During the in between-war years,
studies were conducted on the use of women in World War I. Recommendations were
made for the probable use of women in future wars. The final analysis was,
don’t put them in auxiliary organizations. Put them in the military with
benefits and protection.
At the beginning of World War II in
Europe, new planning was uninformed of the earlier recommendations. The
conclusion was, yes, women were needed, but under no circumstances should they
be given military status.
The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps
was formed in May 1942. Because Congress had dragged its feet in passing the
bill creating the WAAC, planners missed out on the training site in Maryland
they wanted. Instead, they found a recently vacated horse barn in Des Moines,
Iowa. The dormitories smelled like horses.
When the women finally received
uniforms, they got whatever sizes they were given. When the army sought
publicity for the new uniforms, all the press wanted to know about was the
olive drab underwear.
The women’s pay was a rank behind
the men’s. Director Oveta Culp Hobby was a colonel with a major’s pay.
The first class of WAACs at Des
Moines served as guinea pigs. The army didn’t know how to feed them. Using a
survey of business women, they served the WAACs sandwiches and salads, while
men ate steak and stew.
Rumors spread. According to one,
physicians rejected all virgins. Reporter John O’Donnell wrote in his column Capitol Stuff
that the War Department
issued prophylactics to all WAACs before they went overseas. These were so the
women could fulfill the “morale” purposes for which the army had really
An FBI investigation thought to
uncover German propaganda, but the smear campaign was homegrown. Soldiers who
had never come across any WAACs wrote critically about them in letters home.
Wives and mothers resented the women who served overseas in close contact with
Because the women didn’t have
military status, they weren’t able to release men for combat, the primary
reason for the WAACs. A military position could only be filled by military
personnel. Plus, the women could leave their jobs whenever they wanted. The
army had become dependent on the women and wanted control over them. It was
time to drop “Auxiliary” from the WAAC and put them into the Regular Army. The
new bill went to the president’s desk on July 1, 1943, for his signature.
Susan, in Wheresoever They May Be
, served in the Women’s Army Corps as a
Men didn’t have a choice about
serving. They were drafted. The women volunteered. They worked long hours with
little rest. They faced scorn at home and danger overseas. One hundred
eighty-one died in army service.
Mary B. Johnston, a cryptanalyst
who had to learn Japanese and Morse code for her job, said, “We were out there
to do a job and everybody was dedicated to that job. We were in battle zones
and we worked HARD! With something important to do, you get it done and feel
good about it, because it can make a difference in the war and because you made
a contribution. We all felt a sense of accomplishment and participation.”