The Women’s Army Corps (WAC) was the women’s branch of the United States Army. It was created as an auxiliary unit, the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) on 15 May 1942 by Public Law 554, and converted to full status as the WAC on 1 July 1943. Its first director was Oveta Culp Hobby, a prominent society woman in Texas. The WAC was disbanded in 1978, and all units were integrated with male units.
The WAAC’s organization was designed by numerous Army bureaus coordinated by Lt. Col. Gilman C. Mudgett, the first WAAC Pre-Planner however, nearly all of his plans were discarded or greatly modified before going into operation because he expected a corps of only 11,000 women. Without the support of the War Department, Representative Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts introduced a bill on 28 May 1941, providing for a women’s army auxiliary corps. The bill was held up for months by the Bureau of the Budget but was resurrected after the United States entered the war and became law on 15 May 1942. A section authorizing the enlistment of 150,000 volunteers was temporarily limited by executive order to 25,000.
The WAAC was modeled after comparable British units, especially the ATS, which caught the attention of Chief of Staff George C. Marshall. In 1942, the first contingent of 800 members of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps began basic training at Fort Des Moines Provisional Army Officer Training School, Iowa. The women were fitted for uniforms, interviewed, assigned to companies and barracks and inoculated against disease during the first day.
The WAAC were first trained in three major specialties. The brightest and nimblest were trained as switchboard operators. Next came the mechanics, who had to have a high degree of mechanical aptitude and problem solving ability. The bakers were usually the lowest scoring recruits and were stereotyped as being the least intelligent and able by their fellow WAACs. This was later expanded to dozens of specialties like Postal Clerk, Driver, Stenographer, and Clerk-Typist. The WAC provided enlisted seamstresses to tailor WAC uniforms to their wearer – a service they also provided to male officers. WAC Armorers maintained and repaired small arms and heavy weapons but WACs were not allowed to be trained in their use until 1978 and were not issued firearms until the 1980s.
A physical training manual titled “You Must Be Fit” was published by the War Department in July 1943, aimed at bringing the women recruits to top physical standards. The manual begins by naming the responsibility of the women: “Your Job: To Replace Men. Be Ready To Take Over.” It cited the commitment of women to the war effort in England, Russia, Germany and Japan, and emphasized that the WAC recruits must be physically able to take on any job assigned to them. The fitness manual was state-of-the-art for its day, with sections on warming up, and progressive body-weight strength-building exercises for the arms, legs, stomach, and neck and back. It included a section on designing a personal fitness routine after basic training, and concluded with “The Army Way to Health and Added Attractiveness” with advice on skin care, make-up, and hair styles.
Inept publicity and the poor appearance of the WAAC/WAC uniform, especially in comparison to that of the other services, handicapped recruiting efforts. A resistance by senior Army commanders was overcome by the efficient service of WAACs in the field, but the attitude of men in the rank and file remained generally negative and hopes that up to a million men could be replaced by women never materialized. The United States Army Air Forces became an early and staunch supporter of regular military status for women in the Army.
About 150,000 American women eventually served in the WAAC and WAC during World War II. They were the first women other than nurses to serve with the Army. While conservative opinion in the leadership of the Army and public opinion generally was initially opposed to women serving in uniform, the shortage of men necessitated a new policy. While most women served stateside, some went to various places around the world, including Europe, North Africa, and New Guinea. For example, WACs landed on Normandy Beach just a few weeks after the initial invasion.
General Douglas MacArthur called the WACs “my best soldiers”, adding that they worked harder, complained less, and were better disciplined than men. Many generals wanted more of them and proposed to draft women but it was realized that this “would provoke considerable public outcry and Congressional opposition”, and so the War Department declined to take such a drastic step. Those 150,000 women who did serve released the equivalent of 7 divisions of men for combat. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower said that “their contributions in efficiency, skill, spirit, and determination are immeasurable”. Nevertheless, the slander campaign hurt the reputation of the WAC and WAVES; women did not want it known they were veterans.
During the same time period, other branches of the U.S. military had similar women’s units, including the Navy WAVES, the SPARS of the Coast Guard, United States Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, and the (civil) Women Air force Service Pilots.
According to historian D’Ann Campbell, American society was not ready for women in military roles, the WAC and WAVES had been given an impossible mission, they not only had to raise a force immediately and voluntarily from a group that had no military traditions, but also had overcome intense hostility from their male comrades. The situation was highly unfavorable: the women had no clear purpose except to send men to the battlefront; duties overlapped with civilian employees and enlisted male coworkers, causing confusion and tension; and the leadership cadre was unprestigious, inexperienced, and had little control over women, none over men. Although the military high command strongly endorsed their work, there were no centers of influence in the civilian world, either male or female, that were committed to the success of the women’s services, and no civilian institutions that provided preliminary training for recruits or suitable positions for veterans. Wacs, Waves, Spars and women Marines were war orphans whom no one loved.
The Collier County Honor Flight on June 11th is Dedicated to The Women’s Army Corps (WAC, WAV) was the women’s branch of the United States Army.
This Flight is on Elite Airways located at The Naples Airport Commercial Terminal, 500 Terminal RD Naples Fl. 34109, Which is where the Museum of Military Memorabilia is located.