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. Continue reading