Aunt Marian completed her basic training at Fort Oglethorpe. Did her feet protest all the marching?
What did Aunt Marian do and think during her first day of basic training at Fort Oglethorpe in Georgia?
Unfortunately I don ‘t have any letters or journals that record her thoughts, but here’s what another WAC named Aileen Kilgore Henderson wrote about her train trip to Chattanooga, Tennessee which is just across the state line from Fort Oglethorpe—and her first day or so there.
. . . arriving in Chattanooga about seven last night. Ate an elegant supper in the train diner—ham again, thick and tender! We recruits had a U.S. check for ours, but the WAC private chaperoning us had to pay for hers. But the guy in charge of the diner refused—he said her dinner was on the Railroad.
So here I am at Fort Oglethorpe. . . . Half an hour from now recruits assigned to Beds#11 through #20 are ordered to scrub, dust, polish, shine windows, and otherwise clean up the Orderly Room.
Any minute we’re expecting the fire drill whistle to blow. Last night’s drill unsettled us quite a bit. Another unsettling thing was the steady stream of new girls arriving in the night, stomping through the dark to find their beds.
I got this diary entry out of a book called Stateside Soldier: Life in the Women’s Army Corps 1944-1945 that was published in 2001 by the University of South Carolina press. The book contained the diary of Aileen Kilgore Henderson, who was in the WACs during World War II.
The National Archives has an online database that contains World War II Enlistment Records. I found Aunt Marian’s records and discovered that she enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps (WACs) at Elmira, New York.
Aunt Marian probably lived with several of her sisters after her father died. She was the executrix of the estate and the newspaper notice listed her address as Antes Fort (Lycoming County), Pennsylvania, which is where her sister Martha lived.
She apparently later moved from Lycoming County to the home of her youngest sister Ruth in the northern Pennsylvania town of Lawrenceville (Tioga County). According to Wikipedia, about 450 people lived in Lawrenceville at that time.
The nearest enlistment center to Lawrenceville probably was across the state border in Elmira, New York.
A mystery has emerged. Did Aunt Marian attend high school?
My previous post described the requirements that women had to meet to join the WACs. One of the requirements was two years of high school, but it could be waived if a woman did well on a Mental Alertness test. In that post I described how her sister Martha wrote a brief biography of Aunt Marian which said that Marian didn’t attend high school:
She attended the Mountain Grove Country School–an elementary School. She did not attend high school.
Yet the enlistment record indicates that Aunt Marian attended high school for two years.
Was her sister wrong? Did Aunt Marian actually attend high school?. . . .or did Aunt Marian lie on the enlistment form to increase the likelihood that she’d qualify to be a WAC? . . . or were the enlistment records of women who did well on the mental alertness test altered to indicate that they attended high school even if they hadn’t?
I know so little about Aunt Marian—and to even begin to understand who she was, what she thought, and what her personality was like– I need to understand why she joined the Women’s Army Corps (WACs) during World War II. . . . Was it a search for adventure? . . . patriotism? . . . economic reasons? . . .
I’ve found several published diaries and oral histories of women who wanted to join the WACs during WWII. Here are some of their reasons:
Most able-bodies men were already in the armed forces. . . . And, there was a lot of just plane datelessness. . . Armed forces recruitment aimed at women—posters and speeches—became more noticeable, and there was pressure to do something specific for the war effort. The pitch was that a woman working at certain “safe” jobs in the services could release a man for active fighting. I think it was a combination of patriotism, idealism, and the urge for adventure that got me seriously considering joining one of the services.
Anne Bosanko Green (One Woman’s War: Letters Home from the Women’s Army Corps 1944-1946, published 1989)
I worked as a sales clerk at S.H. Kress. The hours were long and the work was hard, but a fascinating world opened to me. Everybody came to the five-and-dime store I saw boys who I had known at school who had joined the army, looking much improved because of their neat uniforms and newly-disciplined life. . . After more than three years at Kress, I felt a discontent that my life had not changed along with all these changes around me. I wanted to make sacrifices to help my country. . . I gave up my job with Kress and spent a year as a Civil Service employee, becoming more and more aware of women in the military. I realized becoming a WAC would enable me to make a contribution to the war effort while receiving some financial compensation at the same time.
Aileen Kilgore Henderson (Stateside Soldier: Life in the Women’s Army Corps, 1944-1945, published 2001)
I think I made $10 a week and I worked every night after school. This was during the Depression and everyone was poor. . .World War II. I think that probably it gave me more opportunities to do more. It’s a terrible thing to say that a war does that, but I wonder if I would ever really have left Narragansett and done what I did, which was the best thing I ever did in my life.
Each woman was in a different situation, and had her own unique reasons for wanting to join the WACs, but their reasons give me clues to the things Aunt Marian may have considered when she made her decision to join.
As I sort through Aunt Marian’s memorabilia and artifacts, I keep asking myself, “Why did she join the Women’s Army Corps (WACs)?”
Good grief, Aunt Marian was in her 40s—and had lived her entire life in rural central Pennsylvania. She lived with her parents and helped on the farm until her father died in 1943.
Aunt Marian had 8 living brothers and sisters when her father died, so she probably needed to find another home and job.
She was a woman with an 8th grade education—and it seems like the typical jobs for a middle-aged woman with her background would have been working in a factory or as a store clerk. But it was the middle of World War II—and recruiting ads like this this one may have motivated her to enlist.
Aunt Marian spent almost 20 years in the Women’s Army Corps—from late 1944 to early 1964.
The WAC evolved across the years–and it was disbanded in 1978, when the male and female units of the army were integrated–, but this description of the WACs in a 1944 recruiting publication called 73 Questions and Answers About the WAC provides a nice description of the organization she joined.