Second World War: Patriotism and the WAAC

One girl's account of enlisting in the WAAC, or Women's Auxiliary Army Corps, out of a sense of patriotism.

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I could hardly believe it! A few hours before, I was anticipating adventure, romance and patriotism - on my way by train to the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps. It was January 2, 1943; my destination was Fort Des Moines. 

I was sitting on an upper GI bunk listening to a woman officer giving us an Army orientation. We were to call the women officers "ma'am," the male officers "sir." We were required to stay in the Army for the duration plus, unless we had an incurable illness, immoral or undisciplined behavior, or we got ourselves pregnant.

A "yellow" or disgraceful discharge, would be given for all charges except the incurable illness. The officer also mentioned a WAAC guardhouse.

We were to leave the "stables" only on command. We were housed in a former horse stable used by cavalry soldiers who had fought in other wars.

I found myself becoming terrified. How could I memorize all these things about the Army? Instead of feeling the former joy, I felt I was in prison; that" duration plus" sounded like being incarcerated for life!

About 2 a.m., one woman sat up in bed. "To hell with a yellow discharge - I'll get pregnant!" she said.

I was shocked! What had we gotten ourselves into?

After mess the next morning, while we were all meandering around the stables with our mismatched uniforms - still in a bewildered state of mind - the sergeant yelled, "Fall out on the double!" We were hustled outdoors and put through our first paces of drilling. After three hours of drilling, we were dismissed back to the stables. Before we could sit on our bunks and rest after the strenuous exercise, the sergeant snapped, "Gather up everything you own, put it in these duffel bags - we're moving to Boom Town, a mile down the road."

Boom Town was a number of hastily built structures, complete with lower and upper bunks, wall lockers, and foot lockers shaped like trunks.

After we had worked for two hours putting things away neatly, the sergeant threw us some bars of soap. She looked our area over with disgust. "This is Friday. Tomorrow morning, we have inspection. Clean and rinse the floors around your area. If you have anything civilian, give it to me. Your blouses (jackets) are buttoned all the way down. The shirts are also buttoned the same way on hangers. In your foot locker only, GI articles are neatly arranged. "

During inspection, the captain gave every bunk a lick with his whip. About three bunks down, he cut the air with a sharp, "Dust on blanket. One gig."

Our steady stares were broken when the commandant put on white gloves, climbed a ladder and found dust on the rafters.

"Everyone a gig," he said, as the sergeant was writing down gigs. When anyone received three gigs, she was confined to the barracks on weekends.

The strain was too much for one WAAC. She fainted. Col. McCoskrie picked her up, his brown eyes pleading to the woman officer, "What should I do?" He gently laid her on her bunk. The officer quickly commanded the sergeant to bring in a wet washrag.

The six weeks of basic training went quickly. The only way we endured it was the expectation of a transfer to an all-male camp. There were only three schools of training here at Fort Des Moines: the MPs, where only WAACs could use judo; Motor Transport, where mechanics were taught; and Cooks and Bakers. We all dreaded the latter as a permanent assignment.

When basic was terminated, we looked for whose names were posted and who was stuck there at the fort.

A few WAACs were sent to men's camps, but most of us were assigned to the fort. Domestic, bed-making Eleanor was an artist, assigned to help an artist-officer paint a mural on the Service Club wall.

My assignment was irrelevant to helping the war effort. I was assigned every morning to cleaning men's and women's latrines, cleaning the Service Club, and on Wednesday, scrubbing, waxing and polishing the ballroom floor.

What broke the dismal fruitlessness of our slave-labor jobs was Warner Brothers filming Women At War at the fort. Doris Day and Fay Emerson were the leading ladies; Robert Warwick, the general. Doris Day never wore makeup, except when being filmed, and never caroused with others in the cast at nightclubs.

Fay Emerson had the MPs on the jump. The fort was large, and many didn't know a movie was being filmed. One night an MP stopped Fay, who was out walking around in her Army costume, hair below her collar, a veil over hat, lipstick, chewing gum. The MP was ready to arrest her when an officer interfered and informed the MP about the movie.

We were visited after the Warner Brothers movie by movie star Robert Young. He visited our mess hall, and the women acted as hysterical and wild as they do now over rock singers. The press acted crazy, too. They hung on chandeliers to get pictures of him eating with WAACs. The WAACs thronged around him as he left the mess hall. They ignored the officers' warnings about having his autograph inked on their cuffs and collars.

I think of the women who have come so far - flying in combat and reaching the rank of general. I'm proud and grateful that I pioneered for them as I did.

Alice Amyx Hugo
Tulsa, Oklahoma

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.