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Women's Army Corps
WAAC/WAC History

The Second World War presented new perspectives of roles of a woman in the United States of America. There was a significant need for men to serve as soldiers which fostered an idea from some important citizens in the US for women to be utilized in the war. Thus the slogan---"Replace A Man for Combat" came into existence. The first group of women became commissioned officers in the US Army. During WWII, Fort Des Moines hosted the formation of the first Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), later renamed the Women's Army Corp (WAC). The first 7,000 female officers for non-combat duty were trained there between 1942-1945. The success of the WACs freed more than 250,000 male soldiers for duty in Europe and the South Pacific in WWII.

In January of 1942, Congresswoman Edith Norse Rogers introduced a bill in Congress for a Women's Army Auxiliary Corps of 150,000 women for non-combat duties. In a surprise move, she added an amendment that would give women military status and the right to be enlisted and appointed in the Army on the same basis as men. The amendment generated bitter controversy on the floor of the House. Congress accepted the idea of a women's auxiliary to ease the manpower shortage, but rejected giving women military status as well as rights and benefits of veterans. On 14 May 1942 after much debate, Congress established a Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. It did not grant the members any military status or benefits. The next day 15 May President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the comprised bill.

General George C. Marshall, the Army's Chief of Staff, appointed Oveta Culp Hobby, a native of Texas, to be the first director of the WAACs. Director Culp had a difficult job description to fulfill because she had to show a skeptical America that a woman could be "a lady" and serve as a member of the armed forces at the same time.
 
Fort Des Moines, Iowa was selected as the site of the first WAAC training center. Applicants had to be a United 'States citizens between the ages on I and 45 with no dependants. They had to be at least 5 feet tall and weigh 100 pounds or more. More than 35,000 women first applied.

On 20 July 1942, the candidate class of 440 women began their six weeks of training at Fort Des Moines. There were forty black women in the first class. Both white and black candidates had similar backgrounds. The black candidates were placed in a separate platoon. The first enlisted candidates began their four week basic training there also on 17 August 1942. Both commissioned and enlisted personnel were trained by regular male Army officers. Eventually and gradually, WAAC officers took over the training of the corps. The first officers completed their training on 29 August 1942 from Fort Des Moines. In the fall of 1942, three new WAAC training centers were opened. They were located in Daytona Beach, Florida, Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, and Fort Devens, Massachusetts.

After graduation from training, WAACs were given various assignments. The Aircraft Warning Service (AWS) units were manned by the first auxiliary units and their officers. By October 1942, twenty seven active WAAC companies manned AWS stations, up and down the eastern US seaboard. Later graduates were formed into companies and sent to Army Air Forces (AAF), Army Ground Forces (AGF) or Services of Supply (renamed Army Services Forces (ASF) in 1943. In the field installations WAACs worked as motor pool drivers, stenographers, typists, and file clerks. The Army Services Forces received at least 40% afterwards.

In November of 1942, General Eisenhower asked that five WAAC officers be sent to the Allied Force Headquarters to serve as executive secretaries. These officers were Martha Rogers, Mattie Pinette, Ruth Briggs, Alene Drezmal and Louise Anderson. In January 1943, they reported to General Eisenhower in Algiers even though their journey from England to Algiers was a perilous one. The ship that transported them was torpedoed en route. All five women were rescued and served on Eisenhower's staff throughout the North African, Mediterranean, and European campaigns.

In early 1943, the number of women joining the WAAC began decreasing due to social factors that were creating negative images after female soldier. At the same time, there was an increasing number of requests from the overseas theaters for WAACs. Director Oveta Hobby continued her effort to foster positive public opinions on behalf of the female soldiers. Director Hobby also diligently campaigned for protection and benefits for the WAACs. Her efforts did not go unnoticed. Although the WAACs were desperately needed in the overseas campaigns, the Army could not or would not offer them the benefits or protection that Regular Army soldiers received. Congress finally realized of what importance the WAAC companies were to the US Army and on July 1943, the WAC bill was signed into law. The term Auxiliary was deleted from the title. The WACs would now have protection if captured, benefits if injured and other Army benefits. Many after WACs elected to return to civilian which resulted in a continued decrease of much needed WACs.

In July 1943, the first battalion of WACs to reach the European Theater of Operations (ETO) arrived in London. It consisted of 557 enlistees and 19 officers. They were assigned the 8th Air Force and worked as telephone switchboard operators, clerks, typists, secretaries, and motor pool drivers. Another detachment of 300 WACs served with Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF) as stenographers, typists, translators, secretaries, radiographers, teletype operators, and general secretaries. They were originally stationed in Bushey Park in London and then accompanied SHAEF to France and eventually to Germany. These women handled highly classified military materials, and worked very long hours. These WACs assisted in the planning of D-Day and all subsequent operations up to the defeat of Germany. Throughout 1944 and 1945, WACs served in the European, North African, Mediterranean, Southwest Pacific, and China-Burma-India Theaters. Although their work conditions were far from ideal, their morale remained high.

In June 1945, Director Colonel Hobby resigned from the WAC due to personal reasons and she recommended Lt. Colonel Westray Battle Boyce as her successor. Colonel Boyce was appointed WAC Director in July 1945 and oversaw the WAC demobilization after V-J Day in August 1945.

During WWII, the number of women that served in the ACIDIC totaled about 140,000. During the war, women also served in other branches of the military: WAVES about 100,000 ; Marine Corps Women Reserve (MCWR) about 23,000 ; SPARS (Coast Guard) 13,000 ; Army Nurse Corps (ANC) about 60,000 ; Navy Nurse Corps (NNC) about 14,000 and Women's Air Force Service Pilots (WASPS) about 1,000. The WASPS only held civilian status.

Numerous awards were granted to individual corps members after August, 1945. WAC Director Oveta Culp Hobby, Deputy Director Lt. Colonel Westray B. Boyce, Sgt. Maxine J. Rohkar, Sgt. Lettie F. Ewing and Sgt. Henrietta Williams were awarded service medals. At the end of Ell, sixteen WACs received the Purple Heart award and five hundred sixty-five received the Bronze Star award. A total of 657 WACs received medals and citations for their meritorious service overseas.

The early WAAC slogan - "Replace A Man for Combat" - is one that will never be forgotten. The women of the United States of America overcame many negative opinions in America's society and various other obstacles in the proving of their worth and skills in helping win WWII.

Several important sources were used in this history of the WAAC/WAC. They are as follows: The Women's Army Corps, 1942-1945: Dressed for Duty, American Women in Uniform 1898-1973(Volume Two) and the Story of the WAC in the ETO.