Today is another "exact" day and month in U.S. military history. On May 15, 1942, 71 years ago, the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) was created.
Women had served with, but not in, the Army for many years. History buffs know of Molly Pitcher, who assisted her artillery husband during the Revolutionary War. Name another woman who served in our first war, or in any other war prior to 1942. You can't.
For a myriad of reasons, war in America had been a men only thing. During WW I, some 25,000 women volunteered for overseas service in France, among 2 million men who served Over There, but none were in the Army.
As WW II loomed, Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts convinced Gen. George C. Marshall, the Army chief of staff, that women should be allowed to serve alongside men in a conflict, and receive equal pay and other benefits.
The 25,000 contract women in The Great War served, but did not receive equal pay nor any benefits. She got Marshall's concurrence, but her bill stalled in Congress, a mostly men-only conclave.
But she got a big boost from the Imperial Japanese military on Dec. 7, 1941, at a place that will "live in infamy," Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
With Pearl Harbor as an unwanted incentive, Congress quickly passed the bill allowing women to serve with the Army, but not be part of it. They would be "auxiliaries", with certain of the benefits that males received.
A recruiting goal of 25,000 was set, which was raised to 150,000 by the secretary of war. For the 1,000 officer spaces authorized, 35,000 women applied. Recruiting was not to be a problem.
One woman applied because her son, of military age, had been injured in an automobile accident and was unable to serve. Another said she applied because there were no men of military age in her family, and she felt someone should serve.
Fort Des Moines, Iowa, became the WAAC training center. Women were assigned to non-combat jobs such as clerical, teachers, stenographers, supply, and telephone operators, to free men for combat duty.
They performed well, but had a hard time being accepted within the Army. Few were satisfied with being "auxiliaries." They went overseas with the Army, to North Africa and the not-so-plush islands in the far-flung Pacific.
After about a year, they began to push for more equal status. In 1943 a bill was introduced to change the WAAC to WAC, for Women's Army Corps. Those already serving were given the option of transferring to the WAC, and about 75 percent did so. The highest percentage of those staying were assigned to the Army Air Forces.
WAC units went on to serve all over the world in WW II, and again in Korea and Vietnam. I don't recall the year, but after Vietnam, I believe it was, the WAC was eliminated. All females in the Army served in the Army, not in a separate corps, or unit.
Page 2 of 2 - A woman, who initially in 1942 could not command a male soldier, became a general officer, a brigadier general. A few years later, one became a major general, then another a lieutenant general, and a few years ago history was made by one being a general.
Women officers began attending CGSC in the 1960s, if memory serves me well. So far only one has become the Marshall Award winner as the top CGSC graduate. That one was about 15 years ago, and was a West Point graduate military intelligence officer.
As an old ad said, "You've come a long way, baby." It began 71 years ago today.
John Reichley is a retired Army officer and retired Department of the Army civilian employee.