I Am A Veteran
I am proud to say I am a veteran, having served in the United States Women’s Army Corps during the Vietnam War era, from 1968 through 1972. I was never in country, but there were those women who DID have duty in Vietnam. The first woman to be assigned to the area was Major Anne Marie Doering. There were more to follow, and a detachment of 90 enlisted women were eventually located at Headquarters, US Army, Vietnam, Long Binh, approximately 20 miles from Saigon. They remained from 1967 to October 1972 when United States troops were withdrawn from Vietnam. These were not only Officer Army nurses, but enlisted members of the Women’s Army Corps.
This Is The Symbol We Wore
This is the symbol of the Women’s Army Corps, the Pallas Athene, the Goddess of wisdom and of war. WACs wore this symbol proudly as I did in the years from 1968 to 1972. It was a round brass circle, worn on our right uniform lapel, with a matching USA on the left. We were required to shine this brass daily with Brasso or Simichrome, so that when we were outside in the sunshine, the brass nearly blinded those approaching. Our black service shoes were stripped of their finish with lighter fluid, re-dyed with black dye, and then polished with black shoe paste and water to a high glass-like finish. We were proud to be part of the Army and of the Women’s Army Corps and our appearance reflected that pride. Our uniforms were pressed several times a day, wrinkles weren’t allowed.
How The Women’s Army Corps Came To Be
The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) was first established in May of 1942 under a bill introduced by Edith Nourse Rogers, a Massachusetts Congresswoman. Since it was an auxiliary, it had no military status until 1943 when Rogers introduced another bill to enlist and appoint women in the United States Army. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the bill on the first day of July, 1943 and thus the Women’s Army Corps was born, widely known as WACs.
How The WAC Became Regular Army
In 1946, the War Department began a program to retain and re-enlist those women who had served during World War II. The Chief of Staff General Dwight David Eisenhower, announced he would ask Congress to make the Women’s Army Corps a part of the Regular Army and the Organized Reserve Corps. Women’s enlisted numbers had dropped steadily after the war from more than 99,000 to about 21,500 and by the end of May 1948, there were approximately 6,500 active duty personnel.
President Harry S. Truman signed into law on the 12th of June 1948, the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act , the bill that Eisenhower had requested Congress to pass. A new training center for WACs was opened at Fort Lee, Virginia in July 1948.
Korean War: Some WACs Recalled
During the Korean War, many WAC officers and enlisted reservists voluntarily returned to active duty, but even with those returnees, more than these were needed to fill administrative positions. Many who were in Reservist status were recalled involuntarily to active duty.
Enlistment Numbers And Training Centers Grow
A new WAC training center was established in 1951 in Ft. McClellan, Alabama to be a permanent home for the Women’s Army Corps. This facility would include basic training, clerk typist, stenography, personnel specialist, leadership and cadre (trainer) courses for enlisted personnel and basic and advanced courses for officers. The WAC center’s first commander was Lt. Col. Eleanore C. Sullivan.
Promotion Restrictions Eased
In 1967, Congress removed “the glass ceiling” of promotion restrictions on women officers, making it possible for women to achieve general officer rank. The first WAC officer to be promoted to Brigadier General was Elizabeth P. Hoisington, Director of the Women’s Army Corps, on June 11, 1970. The second was Mildred C. Bailey, and the third was Mary E. Clarke, who was the last Director of the Women’s Army Corps.
More Specialties Open To Women
The draft was eliminated on June 30, 1973. As a result of strong recruiting and the opening of more specialties open to womenavailability of all Military Occupational Specialties (MOS) to women, with the exception of combat duties, the strength of the Women’s Army Corps increased from 12,260 in 1972 to 52,900 in 1978.
Women Trained in Defensive Weapons
In July 1975, defensive weapons training for enlisted women and officers became mandatory. The policy also applied to women in the Army Reserve and National Guard. In 1977, women began taking the same basic training courses as enlisted men, and year later began training together with men in the same units. Joint training was discontinued in August 1982.
Separate WAC units were phased out from 1973 to 1974. Enlisted women continued to be housed separately to insure their privacy in bathing and sleeping, but they have one commander and cadre (trainers) group. The WAC Center and School in Ft. McClellan closed in December 1976. A WAC museum that was constructed at the Fort is now closed, and a new museum is to be built at Ft. Lee, Virginia.
The Women’s Army Corps: Disestablished 1978
The Women’s Army Corps as a separate unit from the Regular Army was disestablished on October 29, 1978. That order meant WACs would no longer have female only officers and non-commissioned officers as trainers. It also did away with the customs and courtesies of long-standing tradition of the WACs. No longer would the WAC song “Duty” be heard in the barracks or on the march. The medals for the Women’s Army Corps were abolished, and the beloved symbol, the Pallas Athene would be removed from all uniforms. The WACs would now be soldiers and subject to the same clothing, training and treatment as the men.
Some of us found this to be a sad thing, because we had grown to love our own branch of the Army just the way it was. Many can still sing that song from so long ago, some of us still have our uniforms hanging in the closet with the Pallas Athene proudly placed just so. I know I still do. But the unit is no longer recognized anywhere, and finding articles from that era is very difficult. Our VA has shops inside it with all sorts of civilian attire with their armed service branch proudly displayed. Not the Women’s Army Corps members. There is nothing for us to show our pride we felt in our unit.
The words to the WAC song were written by Major Dorothy E. Nielsen, USAR
“Duty is calling you and me
We have a date with destiny
Ready, the WACs are ready,
Our pulse is steady
A world to set free.
Service, we’re in it heart and soul
Victory is our only goal
We love our country’s honor
And we’ll defend it against any foe.”
As members of the United States Women’s Army Corps, we were authorized to receive certain medals. The medal shown here was the Women’s Army Corps Service Medal. We were also authorized to receive the National Defense Service Medal. I have both those medals. We were also authorized medals for serving in a foreign country; Korea, Vietnam, etc.. We received a medal if we attended certain training too.
“The Women’s Army Corps provided opportunities I might not have had. My divorce left me with low self-esteem, and the Army gave that back to me and more. It was a great four years, and I rebuilt my life and met many good people I will never forget.”
~ Nancy Hardin
My Basic Training Platoon
My Basic Training Platoon
Basic Training, Ft. McClellan, Al, March of 1968 – We were Alpha-3, the proudest platoon in Company A and as far as we were concerned, that 3 meant nothing, we knew we were Number One!With the ranking officers in front, we were arranged in this Basic Training photograph by our height. I was 5 feet 6 inches. Can you find me?Pssst…I’m in the back row, fourth from the left side. In those raincoats and hats you couldn’t tell one of us from another!
Can you spot me in this photo?
Class 22, Clerical Training Center, Ft. McClellan, AL, June of 1968 -Look a little closer. These troops are still arranged by height and again by rank. That means the ranking officers are in front: The Captain and the Lieutenant are in the middle, and the Platoon Sergeant on the left. But who is that funny looking gal on the right with the temporary Sergeant stripe on her arm? Why, that’s yours truly! As the Class Leader it was my job to see that everyone did all their chores (known as “details” in the Army) properly, and to call cadence for them as they marched in step to and from class each day (the quickest way to move a large number of people, we were taught!)
The Army Way
A favorite saying was: “There’s a right way, a wrong way and the Army way.” No matter if you already knew how to do a specific thing, there was another way to do it in the Army. We learned to type if we didn’t already know how. We also learned military correspondence and forms, which are totally different from civilian correspondence and forms. There was a strict format for every piece of correspondence we were required to learn and perform. During this training, we learned that everything that’s done in the Army is covered by a regulation. Really, no matter what you needed or wanted to do, “there’s a regulation for that,” actual books that were prominent in every Army company. They were known as AR (short for Army Regulation) with a dash and a number and were always cited for any action taken. Believe me, the Army way never had any relation to the way things were done in the civilian world.
Yes Ma’am, I’m Responsible!
If my class didn’t do what they were supposed to do in what was expected of them, they didn’t get chewed out, I did! It was my responsibility and any discredit fell on my shoulders, but on the other hand, I could also take the credit and feel proud when the Platoon Sergeant was pleased with them. This is where I first learned about the “trickle down” procedure. Fortunately, I hit it off with most of my platoon and we had very few personnel problems. We were proud to graduate but sad that our military orders took us in separate paths.
Fort McClellan, AL – Assistant Company Clerk
Clerical Training Center Duty
Clerical Training Center, Ft. McClellan, Al, June 1968 – February 1969 – The smaller the group gets, the more easily I’m to be found. Yep that’s me, seated on the right front, along with other members of the Clerical Training Company personnel at my first duty, 1968-1969. I was the lowest ranked member at that time, Specialist-4. I am what is known to all recruits and trainees as Cadre which means I am considered “permanent party,” not in training, but on the job. I assist the Company Clerk in getting through the tremendous pile of paperwork required of us each day. My most irritating and difficult responsibility, after only a few weeks in the WAC, was to compose the “Morning Report”each day, listing the number of personnel, trainees, those on leave, those on sick call, those AWOL, (acronym for absent without leave) and any other events that affected the company. Then I had to hand carry it to Headquarters by 0900 (9 AM.) This was a particularly infuriating clerical chore, as it was done with carbon copies. This meant if you had every bit of it correct and made an error at the end of the report, you had to do. it. all. over. again. and. again. and. again. until it was accurate. The more you had to type it over, the more you made mistakes because you’d get nervous trying NOT to make mistakes. I hated that part, but finally got to the point where I did it flawlessly, but my nerves still took a beating every morning until I had it safely finished.
Fort Knox, Kentucky
Fort Knox, Kentucky, beginning of 1970 – I transferred to be closer to my home town and my Mom, who was quite sick. I worked at the Separation-Transfer Point, when the soldiers first started coming back from Vietnam. General Westmoreland wanted these boys on their way as quickly as possible, and we worked overtime typing orders to accommodate them. Then weekends, I drove six hours round trip to go to my Mom’s. Fortunately, she got better, even though she ended up with a heart condition.
At Knox, I was floor Sergeant of my barracks, responsible for seeing that the daily chores (called “details” in the Army) of keeping the bathroom and the living area (bay) clean. If they weren’t spotless when we were all at work and the First Sergeant made her rounds and found something not up to par, I was the one who got the chewing out later. You can bet, I didn’t receive but ONE of chewings! This is where the “trickle down,” theory came in handy. From that time on I made sure to inspect every detail every week-day morning, and if it wasn’t right, they did it over. and. over. and. over. until it was right. I decided not to catch hell for what someone else didn’t do, I’ll put them through the wringer first, and it worked! We began having excellent inspections. The troops were proud of themselves and so was I.
Recruiting Duty Training
In the winter of 1971, I left Ft. Knox, Kentucky for Recruiting Duty Training, in Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana for six weeks. We learned public speaking, the correct way to fill out paperwork needed for enlistment, Army regulations, how to give tests to a prospective recruit, and other phases of the recruiting process. In order to be accepted for recruiting, I submitted a full-length photo and wrote an essay about why I wanted to be a Recruiter. I also had to go before a board of Officers whose approval was necessary to be a Recruiter. Everything about me was scrutinized, from my hair down to my shoes, as well as all my personnel and medical records researched. Somehow, I passed everything and became a Women’s Army Corps Counselor and Recruiter at the end of 1969.
Recruiting For The WAC
Recruiting For The WAC
My new duty station was in my hometown of Evansville, Indiana, in the Federal Building Army Recruiting Office, 1971 to 1972.
I was promoted to Sergeant E-5 as a Recruiter for the Women’s Army Corps, although we were known as WAC Counselors. I had all my SP-5 patches to remove and replace with my new Sergeant’s stripes. The photo above is my first recruit at her swearing in. As a Recruiter I presented the WAC program at high school career days, helped girls to fill out their paperwork, drove them to the Recruiting Main Station in Louisville, Kentucky for processing, provided them with information as to what career fields were available to them based on their test results, and gave them an accurate idea of what they would encounter in the Women’s Army Corps. Retention statistics were given a sharp eye by our Commander, and telling the new recruit truthfully what to expect helped retain those who were good troops.
My Army Years Were Over
In May of 1972, I requested and received an honorable discharge, planning on getting married to a man in the Air Force. In the end it didn’t work out, and I found myself back in civilian life, with an Army attitude. But my time in the Women’s Army Corps was a good time in my life. The service provided opportunities I might not have had and gave me back my confidence, when it proved to me I COULD do things on my own.
Maybe A Book About My Experience?
Maybe some day I’ll write a book about my experiences in my time of service, because it seems the only ones easy to find are either from World War II, or they are about officers. That’s all fine, but it seems to me the enlisted women from the Vietnam era have a story to tell, that has never been told. Although I don’t resent the merging of the WAC with the Regular Army, I feel there’s more to be said about the last years of the WAC than what was told. It’s sad that the WAC has virtually become non-existent since the Army decided to consider women as regular soldiers. I did find a few books, and I’ve listed them on this page, if you are curious or interested in what it was like.
All photos used in this story are the property of the author and as such are private property. Please do not use without permission.