One of the two, key protagonists in my novel Long Way Home: A World War II Novel (formerly Home Front) is Georgette Lillian Newton a twenty-one year old, North Carolina farm girl who leaves home to become one of only about 6,000 African American members of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACS).
The WAACS played an integral and successful role in America’s military presence during World War II but the path to their involvement was a bumpy one. Public opinion about female soldiers was initially negative and the initial bill authorizing the WAACS failed in Congress. It was not until after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 that American military leadership saw the wisdom of adding new personnel to the war effort.
The law activating the WAACS was passed in May 1942 “for the purpose of making available to the national defense the knowledge, skill, and special training of the women of the nation.” A recruitment goal of 25,000 was established but enrollment quickly eclipsed that goal and a final ceiling of 150,000 was authorized by Secretary of the War Henry L. Stimson.
The first Director of the WAACS (later shortened to WACS when the corps traded its auxiliary status for a permanent one) was Oveta Culp Hobby, a former War Department employee who advocated for the WAAC Bill. Hobby’s general idea for the WAACS was that they be trained as non-combatants to take on positions that would free a male soldier for battle.
July 20, 1942, 440 women began officer candidate training at Fort Des Moines (over 35,000 women applied for the training). The four-week basic training of the first auxiliaries (enlisted women) began in August. Note: Forty black women trained as officers were placed in a separate platoon. They attended classes and ate with the other officer candidates but base facilities were segregated.
Auxiliaries had to be U.S. citizens; 21-45 years of age with no dependents; and at least 5 feet tall and weigh 100 pounds or more; and have the equivalent of a high school education. They worked at army facilities throughout the country including the Pentagon as clerks, cryptographers, in motor pools, as mechanics, in the signal corps, in ordnance, air traffic control and in postal units.
In early 1943, there was a public backlash against the WAACS fueled by enlisted men and civilian home front workers and enrollment dropped. However, in July of the same year Congress passed a bill converting the WAACS into a regular service unit. By the conclusion of the war, the Women’s Army Corps was deemed a success and on June 12, 1948 the WACS became a separate corps of the regular army a status it held until 1978.
In Long Way Home: A World War II Novel, Georgette Newton’s future has been mapped out for her by family traditions and expectations. She has a boyfriend, Boone, she is expected to marry and a family legacy to uphold. But Georgette is a dreamer with wanderlust. She longs to move to big city and lead a sophisticated life like the ones illustrated in all the magazines of the 1940’s: Look, Life, and The Saturday Evening Post. So, despite her parents and Boone’s objections, she joins the WAACS after a brief stay at a teacher’s college.
In her new life, Private First Class, Georgette Newton is a personnel clerk with access tothe majority of the files at the Fort Huachuca Army Base. She is meeting new people and has a new routine. She feels like an independent woman for the first time in her life and it suits her.
Georgette is adventurous, head strong, smart and has high standards for herself and those around her. In Long Way Home, she describes her feelings with great savor through the novel’s format of first-person point of view which includes letters to home.
There are a number of interesting memoirs and other non-fiction accounts of the day-to-day lives of Negro soldiers in World War II, but Long Way Home is the first novel that uses the lives of these soldiers, far away from the battlefield, as the backdrop to a story about romance and coming of age. Long Way Home: A World War II Novel is available as an eBook in the Kindle store.
- Treadwell, Mattie E. United States Army in World War II. Special Studies: The Women’s Army Corps. Washington, DC: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1991 (1954).
- Bellafaire, Judith. The Women’s Army Corps: A commemoration of World War II Service. Center of Military History Publication 72-15
- Moore, Brenda. To Serve My Country, To Serve My Race (1996). New York University Press.
- “We Served america, Too!” Blacks inthe Women’s Army Corps During World War II; A selected Bibliography. (1995) Compiled by Dr. Janet Sims-Wood, Assistant Chief Librarian, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University, Washington, DC
- Film: “It’s Your War, too” (1944) U.S. War Department. (9 minutes. 13 seconds)