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Women's History Month: WAC Spotlight

If you haven't been keeping up with us on Instagram, fear not! Check out our handful of WAC spotlights for your reading pleasure this Women's History Month. Compiled by SoCal WAC member, Carli Holland, we review some notable Army women during WWII:



 


Oveta Culp Hobby

Oveta Hobby

Who better to start off with than Oveta Culp Hobby, first director of the Women’s Army Corps? Oveta was born in 1905 in Texas, and developed an interest in politics and law from a young age. Starting at the age of 21, she served for several years as parliamentarian of the Texas House of Representatives, which she did until 1931. After that, she worked with her husband for his Houston newspaper, The Post. When the U.S. became involved in the war, she began to seek out ways that women could serve their country, and served as the head of the Women’s Interest Section in the War Department Bureau of Public Relations. When it was decided that women could serve in the military and the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps was created in 1942, naturally, Oveta was asked to be the first director of the WAAC.


When the WAAC was integrated into the army and the Auxiliary status was dropped in 1943, she obtained the rank of colonel, and remained the director of the WAC until the war’s end in 1945. Hobby was heavily involved in the WAC’s early stages, and truly shaped it into the respectable force it grew into. She helped to redesign the women’s uniforms, raised admission standards and created a Code of Conduct specific to the WAC, and quadrupled the number of occupational specialties that WACs could train in. In fact, the brimmed hats that the WACs wore during the war were affectionately named after her -- Hobby Hats!


For her notable efforts and accomplishments throughout the war, she became the first woman to earn a Distinguished Service Medal after she resigned in 1945. After resigning from the WAC, Hobby returned her attention to politics. She campaigned for Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1952 presidential election, and upon his inauguration, he named Hobby as head of the Federal Security Agency, a non-cabinet position. However, in 1952 Eisenhower created the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and named Hobby as the new department’s secretary, earning her a position in cabinet. Perhaps her most notable accomplishment during her time as secretary was the approval and planned distribution of the polio vaccine.


Hobby dedicated the rest of her life to her family in her home state of Texas, and continued to serve on the boards of various social organizations and continued her public service until her death in 1995.


 


Susie Ogata

Susie Ogata

Susie Ogata was born in Nebraska in 1921, and lived in a farming area near about 25 other Japanese families. Since her parents were Japanese immigrants, they were not allowed to own land. After graduating high school, her family moved to Colorado, where they were allowed to own a farm. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 stunned and angered Susie, and she felt the need to join the military, and said that doing so would be an opportunity to ‘prove her Americanism.’ She joined the WAC when she was 21 years old. “I knew they needed WACs to take desk jobs so the fellows could go to the front,” she said. “We did it for all Japanese Americans. I was proud to be an American,” she declared.


Susie started her basic training at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, and then was assigned to Fort Devins, Massachusetts, where she did clerical work. She recalled that she was one of three Japanese-American women there (also called Nisei), and that they were treated equally within the military -- she could only recall one incident of racial discrimination from another fellow service member. Over all, Susie had fond memories of being in the WAC.


In 1945, Susie and several dozen other women were ordered to Fort Snelling, Minnesota, to form a detachment of Nisei WACs for instruction in Japanese language and military terminology at the Military Intelligence Service Language School. She and the others attended classes from 9am to 4pm five days a week for eight months, where they learned Japanese language, history, geography, military terminology, and writing. Despite her parents being immigrants, Susie had only taken a Japanese language class for a short amount of time when she was young, so at first it seemed a bit daunting, but she quickly adapted. Susie and the other Nisei WACs did unique work translating captured Japanese documents, and even helped to interrogate Japanese prisoners of war.


Susie met her future husband Minori Kato at Fort Snelling, and the two lived happily in California where she worked as a legal secretary until her retirement in 1980.


 


Charity Adams

Charity Adams

Charity Edna Adams was born in 1918, and grew up in South Carolina. Her father was a minister and her mother was a teacher, and she graduated high school two years early as valedictorian of her class. Adams attended Wilberforce College in Ohio, where she majored in math, Latin, and physics, and minored in history. Afterward she returned to South Carolina, where she taught math and science to junior high classes, while still taking summer classes at Ohio State University to complete her degree.


Shortly after its formation, Adams chose to join the WAAC, and in July of 1942, she reported to Fort Des Moines to train with the first WAC officer class. On the train ride to Fort Des Moines, she and the 39 other black women of her class began to make friends with their white classmates. However, as soon as they arrived at the fort, segregation was in full effect. Within 30 minutes of their arrival, the Army separated the black and white candidates and sent them to different living units. However, despite the segregated environment, Adams excelled, and became the first black officer of the WAC when she graduated the following month. She led the 3rd Company, 3rd Training Regiment made up of one black and two white platoons, and she worked as a station control and staff training officer at Fort Des Moines until 1944. The Army promoted her to major in 1943, making her the highest-ranking female officer at the fort, and one of the highest-ranking WAC officers in the nation.


In December of 1944, Adams was given command of the 6888th Central Postal Battalion, and was deployed to Europe, leading the first black WAC unit to serve overseas. She and her unit were stationed in Birmingham, England, and were given the job of sorting through millions of backlogged letters so that they may be sent out to soldiers serving in the European Theatre. Her troops worked around the clock, seven days a week, and completed the job that they were given six months to complete in just three months.


Adams served in Europe until late 1945, and for her work with the 6888th, was promoted to lieutenant colonel, the highest possible rank for soldiers in the WAC. She worked at the pentagon for a period of time after the war, before requesting to be discharged in 1946. Afterward, she returned to Ohio State University and completed her master’s degree in vocational psychology. She married her husband Stanley Earley Jr. in 1949, and then moved to Zurich, Switzerland to be with him while he trained to become a doctor.


Always wanting to further her knowledge, Charity attended Minerva Institute for ten months to learn German, after which she filled her time with other classes before the two returned to the U.S. in 1952. She devoted the rest of her life to education and activism, and served as a dean at both Tennessee State University and Georgia State University. In 1982, she founded the Black Leadership Development Program, which focused on teaching young African Americans to be leaders in their communities. Adams passed away in 2002, and by the time of her death, had garnered the respect and admiration of thousands of military servicemen/women and civilians alike. Her impact can still be felt today, and she is a celebrated figure in both white and black military history.


 


Margaret Hastings

Margaret Hastings

Born in 1914, Margaret Hastings grew up in Owego, New York, and was described as a tomboy with a bit of a rebellious streak. She enlisted in the WAC in January of 1944, and spent most of the year in basic training, after which she was promoted to corporal.


In December of 1944 she shipped out to New Guinea with a batch of other WACs, and was posted to the USAAF base in the port city of Hollandia. She was one of about twenty other WACs doing secretarial work at the base. The surrounding area was lush jungle with a valley surrounded by tall mountain peaks, and USAAF pilots arranged regular sightseeing tours over the island. It was regarded as a beautiful place, and a couple of reporters even nicknamed it “Shangri-La.”


On the afternoon of May 13th two dozen Army personnel -- including five crewmen and nine WACs -- boarded a C-47 to embark on a tour. However, clouds quickly rolled in, and in an attempt to land the aircraft, they crashed into the side of a mountain. Nineteen of those aboard died instantly, and another two died shortly after Margaret and the other two male survivors, Lt. John McCollom and Staff Sgt. Kenneth Decker, managed to pull them out of the wreckage. Since the pilot had only logged their destination as “Shangri-La," the aircraft was reported missing the same day, and it took nearly 72 hours for searchers to spot the wreck.


The B-17 search plane that found the wreckage reported there was no place to land, so follow-up planes dropped medical supplies, field rations, beer, and a walkie-talkie. In their first message, the three survivors reported that they were alright, and said to “just keep sending us supplies.” Meanwhile, the Army worked to organize a rescue. First, however, pilots conducted funeral rites from 11,000 feet above the crash site while Hastings, McCollom, and Decker listened over their walkie-talkie. The planes then dropped 20 wooden crosses and one Star of David with which to mark the resting places of the deceased.


Newspaper reports in the U.S. spun the tale into something of fiction, and details were neither accurate nor consistent between reports. Fourteen days later, on May 26th, two paratrooper medics parachuted in near the crash site to care for the trio before leading them on a 10-mile trek down the mountain. Meanwhile, another eight paratroopers jumped in to establish a base camp in the valley. The Army eventually devised a plan to rescue them, and when Canadian adventurer Alexander Cann caught wind of it, he parachuted into the valley with a film camera to document the rescue, and the 12-minute documentary “Rescue From Shangri-la” can be found on YouTube.


When all was said and done, Hastings, McCollom, and Decker were stranded for 47 days before successfully being rescued. Margaret reportedly maintained a positive and steadfast attitude about the whole thing, and was regarded as an adventurer and became somewhat famous back in the states. Hastings went on to get married and have two children and worked as an admin for the Air Force in her later life, and passed away in 1978.


 


Anna Wilsnack

Anna Wilsnack

We are concluding our featured WAC series with our very own member Jaime Morse’s grandmother, Anna Wilsnack. Anna enlisted in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in early 1943, and re-enlisted when it was converted to the WAC in July of that same year. She completed her basic training at Fort Devins in Massachusetts, after which she transferred to Daytona Beach, Florida for additional training. Wilsnack served stateside as a clerk general, and then as a member of the Military Police. She served at Camp Neosho in Missouri, and later at Fort Des Moines in Iowa. Wilsnack served until 1946, when she was honorably discharged as a Technician 5th Grade at Fort Des Moines. Jaime continues to honor her grandmother by displaying some of her personal uniforms and artifacts, and teaching the public about the WAC through first-hand stories. If you ever attend an event where the SoCal WACs are present, be sure to flip through her extensive photo album spanning the years of her service!



Member Jaime Morse and her grandmother's artifacts while serving in the WAC.


 


Author: Carli Holland

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