Monday, March 23, 2009

Sixty-Seven Years Ago This Month

In March 1942, Congress signed the law establishing the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), allowing American women to enlist for auxiliary service with the U.S. Army.


They were organized into units, trained and served at Army bases, wore uniforms and performed military duties, but while wearing different rank insignia and receiving lower pay. The Army Air Forces (AAF) and Army Service Forces (ASF - logistics) couldn't get enough of them but the Army Ground Forces (AGF) took a long time to come around. In July, 1943, Congress finally did away with the WAAC, replacing it with the WAC (Women's Army Corps).

So if you have ever wondered why they were sometimes called WAACs and sometimes called WACs, now you know.

(The Navy and the Marine Corps did not begin enlisting women until July 1942, but even though they had a cute-sy little name--Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service--the WAVES were never considered an auxiliary, but rather part of the Navy from the get-go.

On the night Marine Corps Commandant Major General Thomas Holcomb announced his intention to recruit women, the portrait of 5th Commandant Archibald Henderson fell off his wall at 8th & I with a resounding crash. Commandant Holcomb did not welcome the idea of bringing women into the Marine Corps but he was a realist. By 1945, 80% of the enlisted personnel serving at Headquarters, Marine Corps, were female. When it was mentioned to Holcomb that these women didn't have a nickname, he replied "They are Marines. They don't have a nickname and they don't need one. They get their basic training in a Marine atmosphere at a Marine post. They inherit the traditions of Marines. They are Marines.")

(a H/T to Dan Thompson for the Male Call cartoon).


Anonymous said...

Uh, Shay, that was 67 years ago.

Shay said...

Yeah, you're right. Arithmetic is obviously not one of my strong points.

Rochelle R. said...

Thanks for the mini-history. I will admit I never really thought about the history of women in the services. I worked for over ten years with a woman that had retired from the Army after twenty years service. I don't think she ever talked about her service which seems rather odd now that I think about it.

Katie said...

I reenact the ATS here in the UK and it is nice to hear the history of what happened over your side.
The work of the ATS in the war has only just been recognised with a statue in London, it is a shame that the women still seem not to be noticed in the forces.

Shay said...

Katie, I would be interested in learning how military service for women was regarded by the average Englishman/woman.

Here is the US, after an initial surge in enlistment post-Pearl Harbor, there was HUGE social pressure not to join. Despite favorable publicity in movies, magazines, from the gov't, by 1943 the number of volunteers had dropped drastically. Americans were adamantly opposed to military service for their daughters regardless of how patriotic it might be or how badly it was needed.

I have always been under the impression that this was just the opposite in Great Britain, that the societal pressure was on young women to join up. Can you enlighten me?

Katie said...

Hi Shay
The services each had their own womens arm and there was not much problem getting women signed up for the WRAF and the WRENS (airforce and navy) but the ATS had a reputation of the girls joining being a bit fast and loose...
In the end they got Princess Elizabeth to join and she became and mechanic and the recruitment improved.
I work with searchlights and we have a 5ft searchlight and generator we go around with and show people at events.

GDad said...

That was a fun history lesson. Loved the comic strip.