Auxiliary proved women have place in military

By Don McAlavy: Curry historian

Not many people at the air base knew about the WAACs —Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps, later known as WACs. The airmen at Clovis Army Air Field in June 10, 1943, had waited patiently for their arrival. At 6 p.m. that day, the first group of the WAACs arrived on the base with an enthusiastic cry, which went the rounds like wildfire: “They’re here, men, they’re here!”

Sacrificing none of their femininity or glamour, the nucleus of a larger group of WAACs to arrive later, they looked efficient and soldierly in their crisp khaki outfits. The skirted soldiers, now stationed at the base, came here under the command of 2nd Officer Marian Kobe. Three officers and 12 enlisted women (Auxiliaries, as the enlisted personnel were called in those days) were the first to arrive and take roots.

The girls who came here to take over duties performed by men, to be relieved for combat service, were housed in regular army barracks built for them and shown no special favors. They prefered it this way because the WAAC considered herself as much a soldier as the hardest first sergeant whose sleeve was hung with a slew of service chevrons.

“We got into this woman’s army to do our part in the war and not to be treated like a bunch of pampered secretaries, whose only thoughts are a permanent wave and the 5 o’clock whistle,” said Cpl. Rose Patick, a member of the group.

The base personnel realized that the base could use a bit of the woman’s touch, and gave the newcomers a warm and hearty welcome.

The girls exercised, drilled, policed their bunks and barracks, and engaged in every military activity known to their GI counterparts. They felt like “old timers” in point of service. All had been in the WAACs for more than five months, have had their basic training at Fort Devens, Mass., and are prepared to assume the duties that will be assigned to them.

In the cadre just arrived at the base are former defense plant workers, a War Department clerk, a payroll accountant, two radio assemblers, a tea room manager and a waitress. They hail from Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Utah and Illinois.

By July 1, 1943, nine WAACs had relieved nine enlisted men for combat duty, from jobs such as laboratory technicians, clerks in courts and boards, special services, ordinance and base custodial office.

On Sept. 1, 1943, the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps officially became Women’s Army Corps (WACs), and from that date were called sergeant, corporal and lieutenant, instead of leader, junior leader, 3rd officer and auxiliaries.

During September the girls built an outdoor fire pit for barbecues and weiner roasts, in the WAC area, which is only a small part of the work done during this era to beautify their surroundings.

At the end of September their strength was three officers and 43 enlisted women, two of whom were on detached service in Colorado.

April brought 31 new faces for the WAC Detachment, bringing its total strength up to three officers and 130 enlisted women.

The base commander at this time was Lt. Col. Edward R. Fuller, and Maj. A. V. Reinertsen, the base executive officer. Now who says women don’t have a place in the military?

Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at:
dmcalavy@telescopelab.com