“I do hereby establish a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps for non-combatant service with the Army of the United States for the purpose of further making available to the national defense the knowledge, skill, and special training of the women of this Nation; and do hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of War, as a first step in the organization of such Corps, to establish units thereof, of such character as he may determine to be necessary to meet the requirements of the Army, with the number of such units not to exceed 100 and the total enrollment not to exceed 25,000.” — President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9163
Enrollment would far exceed that 25,000 limit first laid out by President Roosevelt in his Executive Order establishing the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps on this day 70 years ago. By war’s end, more than 140,000 women would have served their country as a member of what would become the Women’s Army Corps, or more commonly known as the WAC.
In May 1941 Massachusetts Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers proposed a bill for the establishment of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, a non-combat organization meant to take over jobs that would allow for more men to serve in overseas combat roles. Initially unpopular, the bill was finally passed a year later when President Roosevelt signed it into law on 15 May 1942. The following day, Oveta Culp Hobby was sworn in as director. For her service in this capacity, Hobby would become the first female to be awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, the Army’s third highest honor for exceptional service.
Once established, tens of thousands of women applied for more positions than existed. The first WAAC training center was established at Fort Des Moines, Iowa and training began in July 1942. Women between the ages of 21 and 45 were eligible to enlist. Following training, companies of 150 women each were created.
African American, Japanese American, Native American, and Hispanic women were encouraged to join the Corps, but were generally separated into segregated units just as the regular Army was. Such units included the all Puerto Rican contingent assigned to the Port of Embarkation in New York City, and the all black 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion.
Service in the WAC may not have brought women into combat, but it could be a dangerous job nonetheless. More than 150 WACs died in service, largely from disease but also from plane crashes, ships being sunk, and other misfortunes. Despite the risks, these women were not given all the same benefits as their male counterparts. Although receiving the same pay as men serving stateside, members of the WAAC were not eligible for overseas pay; and although they were entitled to veteran’s hospitalization if wounded or sick while in service, they did not receive government life insurance.
On 1 July 1943, Roosevelt approved Congresswoman Rogers’ new bill that proposed the full incorporation of WAAC into the army. Thus the WAAC became the Women’s Army Corps, and their benefits were made to match that of their male counterparts. The women of the WAC served with the Army Ground Forces, the Army Service Forces, and the Army Air Forces, both stateside and in nearly every theater of war. Their job titles included cook, typist, electrician, driver, mechanic, radio operator, and just about every other support role you can think of. Many were assigned to the Manhattan Project.
Tens of thousands of women served their nation in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II, living the motto “It’s our war too!” The success of the WAC—and later the female auxiliaries of the other branches such as the WAVES, SPARS, and US Marine Corps Women’s Reserve—changed the prevailing prewar attitude that women didn’t belong in the military. The WAC served in both Korea and Vietnam, and was disbanded in 1978.
Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and warfare,was the symbol of the WAC. This is an officer’s lapel pin. Gift of David Mears, 2011.181
The WAC Service Medal, created in July 1943, also features the profile of Athena. Gift of Laurie M. Hope, 2011.410
Collections Highlight: T/4 Mary Pritchard
Portrait of WAC Technical Sgt. Pritchard, Gift of Mary Pritchard Gershuny, 2002.339
Mary Pritchard enlisted in the WAAC on 16 April 1943. She had been working as a civilian with the Merchant Marine in Washington, D. C. After training, she was sent to the Charleston Port of Embarkation for a year. After a year of stateside service, Pritchard shipped out to serve under the US Army Forces in the Far East in Hollandia, Netherlands East Indies, arriving just days before the invasion of Leyte Gulf in October 1944. There, Pritchard worked in radar and communications with “Section 22,” a group with top secret clearance.
Just a month later, her unit moved to the Philippines where their office was in a bowling alley. In a memoir, Pritchard recalled the uniform shortage that was typical of the WAC experience, wearing basically any uniform they could find including men’s fatigues. In Manila, Pritchard and her unit worked towards the organization of Operation Olympic–the planned invasion of mainland Japan. The dropping of the atomic bombs precluded that operation, and Pritchard was sent home, discharged in October 1945. Having so enjoyed her service with the WAC, Pritchard took a job with the Department of the Army and worked in Tokyo from 1946 until 1949.
Pritchard and her Radar and Radio Countermeasures Unit in front of their office building in Hollandia, Dutch East Indies
Know a middle or high-school student with a passion for volunteering and World War II history? Have them apply for the Victory Corps Youth Volunteers! The Victory Corps is The National WWII Museum’s newest weekend volunteering opportunity. We are seeking students ages 13 – 17 to apply for the inaugural class. Victory Corps volunteers will bring a living component into the Museum’s world-class exhibits and galleries, sharing actual artifacts from World War II and leading fun, interactive activities with Museum visitors. Bring the history of The War That Changed The World to life in an exciting new way!
A perfect opportunity to learn about history, meet new people and make new friends, the Victory Corps is currently accepting applications. Space for applicants within the pilot class is limited and competitive, so do not delay — apply with the Victory Corps today!
Deadline for application is May 28, 2012. All volunteers will be required to attend a training session on June 9 and will go into service starting June 16.
On the night and early morning of August 8th and 9th 1942, the life of nineteen-year-old Signalman 3rd Class Elgin Staples of Akron, Ohio was saved by someone over 8,000 miles away. Serving aboard the cruiser USS Astoria (CA-34) in support of the landings on Guadalcanal, Staples and his crewmates suddenly found themselves illuminated by spotlight and under attack by a force of Japanese cruisers north of Savo Island. At approximately 0200 hours, the Astoria’s number one eight-inch turretwas hit and exploded, sweeping Signalman Staples into the air and overboard.
Signalman Staples, dazed and wounded in his legs by shrapnel, kept afloat thanks to an inflatable rubber life-belt he had donned shortly before the explosion.
At approximately 0600 hours, Staples along with other survivors were rescued by the destroyer USS Bagley (DD-386) and returned to assist the Astoria, which was heavily damaged, but attempting to beach itself in the shallow waters off Guadalcanal. These efforts failed, as Astoria took on a dangerous list before finally sinking at approximately 1200 hours, putting Staples back into the water, still wearing the same life-belt.
Rescued a second time by the transport USS President Jackson (AP-37), Signalman Staples was first evacuated to Noumea in New Caledonia before being given leave to return home. It was while on board the President Jackson that Staples first examined the life-belt which had saved him closely and was surprised to find that it had been manufactured in his hometown of Akron, Ohio by the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company. He also noticed an unusual set of numbers stamped on the belt.
Returning home to Akron, Signalman Staples thought to bring along the life-belt that had saved him to show his family.
After a quietly emotional welcome, I sat with my mother in our kitchen, telling her about my recent ordeal and hearing what had happened at home since I had gone away. My mother informed me that “to do her part,” she had gotten a wartime job at the Firestone plant. Surprised, I jumped up and grabbing my life belt from my duffel bag, put it on the table in front of her.
“Take a look at that, Mom,” I said, “It was made right here in Akron, at your plant.”
She leaned forward and taking the rubber belt in her hands, she read the label. She had just heard the story and knew that in the darkness of that terrible night, it was this one piece of rubber that had saved my life. When she looked up at me, her mouth and her eyes were open wide with surprise. “Son, I’m an inspector at Firestone. This is my inspector number,” she said, her voice hardly above a whisper.
Happy Mother’s Day from The National WWII Museum!
Posted by Collin Makamson, Red Ball Express Coordinator at The National WWII Museum.
A PPSh-41 from the Museum’s collection. On loan courtesy of the Louisiana State Museum
Today marks the beginning of the Second Battle (of many) for Kharkov. The Germans had first taken the Soviet city in October 1941. The May 1942 battle was the Soviet attempt to retake the city, which failed by the end of the month though they would succeed less than a year later only to lose the city to the Germans again before finally being liberated in summer 1943. For this 70th anniversary, we will highlight one of the soviet weapons on the Museum’s collection: the PPSh-41
The submachine gun was largely an innovation of the Second World War, and a very significant one at that. It allowed for more mobility than a machine gun, and more firepower than a rifle. Though smaller and lighter than their big brothers, the firepower of submachine guns is not sacrificed. Perhaps most importantly in a wartime economy, they were generally very inexpensive to make. Think of the British Sten and American M3 “grease guns.”
The PPSh-41 was first designed in 1941 and would become one of the most prevalent small arms of the war with approximately 6,000,000 manufactured by V-E Day. The weapon was ideal for street fighting with a range of 150 yards, and was so popular with the Germans that they began training on the weapon and carrying them in significant numbers. The PPSh-41 could fire 900 rounds per minute at its best, much faster than the average sub’s cyclic rate of 600 rpm. The weapon’s best advantage was its suitability for battle on the icy Eastern Front. Where most weapons would prove useless in the slush and mud of that theater, the PPSh-41 was rugged and sturdy, able to withstand dirt, water, and most importantly, snow. The drum magazine held 71 rounds, though a smaller stick magazine was also available. The weapon was used in subsequent conflicts by Soviet satellite states for decades.
A few years ago we asked people to send us their memories of food and eating during World War II. We had some great responses, but we know there are more out there so we are asking you to help! If you have memories of the kitchen from the war years, please send them to us. We’d love your stories, recipes, and memories. If you were born after World War II, this is a great opportunity to talk to those who did experience both good and bad meals during wartime.
Each Friday we will publish food stories on our blog. Our goal is to produce a publication that will be available for free download on our website, so that all who are interested can read the stories and try the recipes we receive. Please talk to the war generation, from veterans to kids on the home front, and share their stories with us.
Here’s an example of a great memory that Carl Jensen of Cotati, CA sent in:
“My mom and pop decided to raise rabbits for meat. Because of pop’s increased income at the shipyard, we could afford to rent a bigger house. It also had more land where we could keep some chickens for eggs and pop could build the rabbit cages. We got two pairs of male and female rabbits and we waited. And the rabbits did what rabbits do, and soon we had more than a half-dozen of the cuddly creatures. Finally, the time had come to kill and dress the rabbits as planned. Mom and I anxiously stayed in the house while pop took the axe and went out to the rabbit hutches. We waited. And we waited. Pop finally came back into the house. “I can’t do it,” he said. Mom and I yelled with happiness and we all trailed out to the backyard to watch the newly reprieved rabbits in their cages.”
To help us preserve these recollections, stories, and recipes, here are some questions to fire up your memories:
What do you remember about food rationing during the war?
Do you remember using substitutes for unavailable ingredients?
Did you or anyone you know shop on the “black market”?
Did you grow a Victory garden?
What about holiday meals?
What about working or eating in local restaurants?
What was your greatest food challenge during the war?
What was your favorite food during the war?
What was your least favorite?
Do you remember any unique recipes (triumphs or disasters) that came out of your Home Front kitchen?
Let’s talk about food!
Send your memories to firstname.lastname@example.org today.
Posted by Lauren Handley, Education Programs Coordinator
May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and The National WWII Museum would like to acknowledge and honor the contributions and sacrifices of Asian and Pacific Island Americans during World War II.
During World War II, Asian Americans and Pacific Island Americans served with distinction in combat. The 100th Battalion, the 442nd Infantry Regiment (the most highly decorated unit in WWII), and the Philippine Scouts (who were awarded the first three Medals of Honor of the war from President Roosevelt) served with distinction in both the European and Pacific theaters of war.
George T. Sakato’s story is an important example of the bravery and sacrifice shown by Asian Pacific Americans during World War II.
George was raised in California but moved with his family to Arizona during the war so they would not be sent to an internment camp. He joined the Army in April of 1944 and was sent with the segregated 100th Infantry Battalion to France in October of that year.
On October 29, 1944 while near the town of Biffontaine, Sakato and his platoon destroyed two enemy defense lines (he killed five enemy soldiers and captured four) but were then pinned down by heavy fire. Sakato ignored the heavy fire and rushed ahead alone encouraging his platoon to follow. During this action his squad leader was killed and he took charge, using an enemy rifle and P-38 pistol to stop the oncoming attack. He killed twelve, wounded two, and personally captured four while assisting his platoon in the capture of 34 more.
Sakato was originally turned down for the Medal of Honor and was instead awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. In June of 2000 he, along with twenty-one other Asian Americans, was awarded the Medal of Honor. His citation reads in part:
“By continuously ignoring the enemy fire and by his gallant courage and fighting spirit, he turned impending defeat into victory and helped his platoon complete its mission. Private Sakato’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the United States Army.”
Sakato’s drawings and description of that day are an amazing illustration of his (and his comrades’) bravery and devotion to each other and their country.
During the War, the Home Front often proved an uneasy space for Asian Americans (especially those Americans of Japanese descent), with fear and discrimination leading to the internment of thousands of Japanese Americans on the West Coast in one of the most grievous civil rights violations in United States’ history. Despite these many hardships, Asian Americans and Pacific Island Americans served their country with distinction in both combat and in contributing vital war-time service to industry, agriculture, construction and other occupations crucial to the war effort.
Please join The National WWII Museum as it salutes the bravery and sacrifice of Asian Pacific Americans during World War II.
May 1942 was the busiest month of the war for U-boat activity in the Gulf of Mexico. The SS Alcoa Puritan was just one of the vessels that fell victim to a U-boat this month 70 years ago. The May 1942 cover of The Eureka News Bulletin shows a steamship ablaze after an encounter with a U-boat; the steamship’s crew members are adrift in a life raft. On 12 May 1942, the tanker SS Virginia was sunk by U-507 as it entered the mouth of the Mississippi—the closest such attack the Louisiana coast would see during WWII. Twenty-six crewmen were killed.
For more posts about the publications of Higgins Industries and production on the home front during WWII, see the series Worker Wednesday.
For a period of 66 years PT-305 went without the hands of enlisted US Navy men working on her, but that all changed on a recent Saturday. Throughout the morning, above the normal laughter of the crew and whir of the table saw, was the constant buzzing of random orbit sanders coming from PT-305. The engine room was alive, not with three Packard 4M-2500 engines, but with the hard work of five US Navy volunteers with the ships of NOLA Navy Week.
The PT-305 restoration crew is grateful to the US Navy and the eight volunteers who showed up to work, and work they did. Our normal finish paint crew consists of two people, George and Kali. George and Kali have a large task ahead of them, painting the interior of a 78-foot boat with three-inch paint brushes. This task is not out of their capabilities, however, the Navy crew that came in was a tremendous help. The engine room has been a constant focus during the restoration, there are multiple crews coming in and out. The wood butchers were rebuilding bulkheads and stringers, the engine crew was checking for alignment of engine beds with the shaft holes, the structural crew was replacing stiffeners and the electricians were planning routes for conduit. With all this activity, painting has been a complicated task – until the Navy showed up. The Navy crew, working with George and Kali, had the entire engine room sanded and painted shortly after lunch. The compartment is now clear for the rest of the crews to return to work. What should have taken weeks was done in a day.
While five of the Navy volunteers sanded and painted, two more helped in the wood shop, working with the bandsaw to cut out hull ribs. Each rib is made as a blank, and then the exact curve and length get drawn onto the blank with the use of a pattern. The cutting must be precise so that the rib will fit perfectly into place. After cutting out some hull ribs, they helped Josh with some deck rib work.
Civilian operations continued in the 20mm ammunition locker and at the bow of the boat. Frank and Conrad spent the day working on cheek blocks. Cheek blocks are attached to the side of the keel between hull ribs. These blocks provide support to the planking where it joins to the keel. The majority of these blocks are a similar shape, making them easy to mass-produce, however, the cheek blocks on the stem are all sorts of shapes. This complicated task has really forced Frank and Conrad to think. At this point the keel curves up to form the stem and the hull planking comes in at a sharp angle. They have to make blocks that are curved with multiple angles, a task that leaves them frustrated, but enjoying every second of it.
Our intrepid trio of Harold, Jim and Ed were busy perfecting work place sarcasm and finishing the ammunition locker. The 20mm ammunition locker sits in the middle of the officer’s quarters and underneath the chart house. The last few weeks have been spent putting in the walls, which run from the deck to the keel: this assembly looks like an elevator shaft. This Saturday, the boys framed and finished the top deck of the ammunition locker, forming the chart house floor. This was done by cutting large strips of mahogany and bolting them to the sides of the ammunition locker. After that was completed, strips of mahogany were placed across the box forming the floor. After a ¾ piece of marine plywood was cut to fit the top, the floor was complete.
Ed leans into the access hatch for the 20mm ammunition locker, which is located in the middle of the officer’s quarters.
The radio operator’s position in the charthouse is above the 20mm ammunition storage. His equipment sits on the deck, while the operator stands on top of the 20mm storage, putting him at waist height with the deck. Harold (wearing a cap) is standing on a ladder finishing the installation of the charthouse floor. The radio operator would stand just a few feet higher than Harold does here. The gap to Harold’s right will have a ladder leading into the crews quarters, while Ed, at the bottom right, is in the officers’ quarters.
The compartment immediately aft of the officer’s quarters is a fuel compartment. The fuel compartment contains two 800-gallon fuel tanks with the officer’s head between them. Steering, bilge plumbing, forced air ducts and electricity all pass through this compartment. Because fuel tends to be combustible, each system is run through watertight fittings and kept away from the fuel tanks. The electric lines run through steel piping that keep the lines out of any direct contact with fuel tanks and fuel fumes. There are three of these tubes for each side, making a total of six. Jim Rivers spent the day working on fitting the pipe conduit to the foreword and aft bulkheads in the foreword fuel compartment.
The exciting day for the restoration crew continued when Rear Admiral Ann Claire Phillips visited the Kushner Restoration Pavilion to see PT-305. Rear Admiral Phillips served as the operational commander for NOLA Navy Week. Phillips also serves as the Commander of Expeditionary Strike Group Two out of Norfolk, Virginia, which includes the USS Wasp, one of the ships in New Orleans for Navy Week. After touring the Restoration Pavilion and going aboard the 305, Rear Admiral Phillips, as well as all of the Navy volunteers, signed the underside of the bull nose that is to go on the 305. It was a great honor to have Rear Admiral Philips visit and take interest in the restoration project.
Rear Admiral Ann Phillips stands on deck with volunteers Harold and George, and the Museum’s President, Dr. Nick Mueller.
Rear Admiral Phillips signs the 305’s bull nose.
The PT-305 restoration crew would like to greatly thank Rear Admiral Phillips, the Navy volunteers, and all of the service men and women of different nations who came to see the 305. We would like to extend a special thank you to the eight sailors who came and spent the day working with us: Ensign Kenneth Pennington and Petty Officers Michael Wagner, Ken Besso, Russell Poyner, Chris Huddleston, Brian Schuler, Robert Hoffman and Leary. Bravo Zulu to you all!
Anyone who has ever visited the Museum has probably marveled over the beautifully restored LCP(L) on display in the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion as well as the fully-functional replica of a LCVP (both boats manufactured by Higgins Industries of New Orleans during WWII). Visitors have also toured the John E. Kushner Restoration Pavilion (or perhaps just pressed their faces up against the exterior glass!) to see ongoing work to restore a Higgins-built PT boat, PT-305. But what visitors may not realize is the long-standing relationship between the Museum and the dedicated group of volunteers who made these projects a reality. This special group of volunteers has been giving their time to the Museum back before the original National D-Day Museum even opened. Stay tuned for more volunteer updates on the Museum Blog.
While much of the world reveled in the news of Allied victory over Nazi Germany on May 8, 1945, troops in the Pacific felt no cause for celebration. In his autobiography, With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa, E.B. Sledge talks about reaction to the announcement.
On 8 May Nazi Germany surrendered unconditionally. We were told this momentous news, but considering our own peril and misery, no one cared much. “So what” was typical of the remarks I heard around me. We were resigned only to the fact the Japanese would fight to total extinction on Okinawa, as they had elsewhere, and that Japan would have to be invaded with the same gruesome prospects. Nazi Germany might as well have been on the moon.
The main thing that impressed us about V-E Day was a terrific, thundering artillery and naval gunfire barrage that went swishing, roaring, and rumbling towards the Japanese. I thought it was in preparation for the next day’s attack. Years later I read that the barrage had been fired on enemy targets at noon for its destructive effect on them but also as a salute to V-E Day.
On this National Teacher Day, The National WWII Museum salutes all those teachers who work tirelessly in guiding our next generation. Education is at the heart of the Museum’s mission so that all generations will understand the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn. Without teachers bringing students to us, we could not have our intended impact.
Because of dedicated, hard working teachers the Museum has seen over 400,000 students come through the doors on field trips. We know that collecting permission slips, scheduling buses, and organizing students is not an easy task, yet it is one that we see hundreds of committed teachers do every year to help bring the lessons of World War II to their students.
History teachers make up the bulk of the teachers who visit us, but they are not the only ones. Math and science teachers have come through with student groups after booking STEM field trips. English teachers bring students through regularly to emphasize non-fiction works. We have had visits from art and theater classes as well.
Our recently completed essay contest received over 1,000 submissions from students across the country—because teachers made this opportunity to win scholarships available to their students. In developing the essay topic, the Museum has the easy job. Teachers play the greater role of explaining the topic and guiding students through the writing process. The winning essays show that teachers are definitely emphasizing clarity, persuasion, and tone in student writing.
Tech-savvy teachers have responded to our Virtual Field Trips. Over 18,000 students have participated in our interactive lessons during this schoolyear. The years of work that we have put into the design and execution of these experiences would mean nothing if teachers were not willing to bring us into their classrooms and devote time to using our preparation materials with their students.
All of us at the Museum can remember a great teacher who influenced us. For many of us here, it was a history teacher who made us realize the power of studying history, of moving beyond memorization and searching for the lessons in history. We can remember the first project, or field trip, or experience that made us connect with history. We remember the time that a story moved us to want to know more, the first time that a history lesson inspired us to become independent learners.
Teachers, for all you do, Thank You!
This post by Louisiana History Day Coordinator Nathan Huegen
The National WWII Museum tells the story of the American Experience in the war that changed the world - why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today - so that all generations will understand the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn.