My mother, Margaret, and her younger brother, Joe.
Some people are fond of saying they “love a man in uniform.”
As for me, I’m proud to say, “my mother once wore a uniform.” Olive drab wool and khaki, to be exact, when she enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps back in World World II.
Margaret is in the 4th row from the top, far right.
In 1944, Margaret joined the first company of WACs from Hawai’i — a unique contingent of 59 women (ages 20 to 44) representing almost every ethnic group in the Islands, 15 languages spoken among them. All were “local girls,” most of whom had never been to the Mainland. They wanted to serve as well as see other parts of the country. About 50 of them were from O’ahu; some had been under enemy fire, others had seen their homes or businesses ravaged by bombers.
When we were in Hawai’i last month, my mom recounted how they first boarded a troop ship (converted tourist liner) bound for California. It was a dream come true for many of them, who for years had seen the Matsonia bring visitors from all over the world to Honolulu.
Margaret (second from left), Aunty Ella (far right).
After crossing the Pacific, the Hawaiian Wacs traveled by rail to Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia, for basic training. I can imagine the excitement of their first train ride, as they watched the changing landscape along the Southern route, passing through Arizona, Oklahoma, Texas, and Tennessee. They must have been thrilled (as I once was), to see snow for the first time on mountain and hillside.
Fortunately, they were housed together for basic training. Mutual support and camaraderie helped them survive six weeks of rigorous drills, inspections, KP duty, classroom time (military customs and courtesies, hygiene, map reading, “supply secrets”), and sometimes cold showers. Not to mention freezing through their first Georgia winter. But on Saturday nights they could relax — see a movie, attend a party (some brought their ukuleles, others were good hula dancers and singers), play cards, talk story. From all reports, these women impressed their superiors as excellent trainees — fast learners who were not only efficient and cooperative, but ideal ambassadors from Hawai’i, always friendly and quite a novelty in the Deep South.
After basic training, Private Margaret attended administrative school at Ft. Des Moines, Iowa, and was eventually assigned to Camp Stoneman, California, where she worked in Personnel, Special Order Section, processing shipping orders for overseas troop assignments. She was then reassigned to Hickam Air Force Base on O’ahu, and briefly returned to California (Travis Air Force Base). It was while driving a flashy Jeep at Hickam that Corporal Margaret supposedly caught my father’s eye. Seems he couldn’t resist a “woman in uniform.” ☺
At work, Hickam AFB.
A nice ending to this story: we visited the Hawai’i Army Museum in Waikiki, which has exhibits depicting military history from the time of Kamehameha the Great to WWII, the Korean War, and Vietnam. The WWII section includes an exhibit about the Hawai’i WACs, and the volunteer curator, Mr. Yamamoto, was beyond thrilled to meet Margaret.
Main entrance to the Hawai’i Army Museum, Waikiki, O’ahu.
Margaret and the WAC exhibit.
In his 20+ years of working there, never had any of the WACs in the group photo materialized before his very eyes (at age 86, my mom might be one of the few still alive). But Mr. Yamamoto is no spring chicken, either. He’s 87, with a decided twinkle in his eye, and he just happened to be a member of the infamous 442nd Infantry, the most highly decorated regiment in the history of the Armed Forces, with 21 Medal of Honor recipients. He and Margaret had a wonderful time trading war stories.
Margaret received two Good Conduct medals, not because she was extra good, but because they misspelled her last name on the first one and had to engrave another.
So, on this Veteran’s Day, it’s nice to remember all who served in different capacities at different times in our nation’s history. A “veteran” could be a soldier who faced enemy fire overseas — or a tall young woman from a tiny island in the Pacific who left her family and friends behind to help the war effort:
Serving in the WAC was the highlight of my life. It was the first time I left Hawai’i, with great anticipation and uncertainty because of war conditions. The experience of meeting different people, especially women who served at that time, and the various places I was fortunate to visit was very rewarding. Most in the group from Hawai’i were much older than me. They were all nice and we kind of bonded and after being discharged met on a regular basis exchanging news about each other and others who served with us. I think a good number of them are gone now, as we no longer meet.
Of my mother’s seven brothers, five served in the military (four in the Army, one in the Navy; three in WWII, two in the Korean War). Margaret was the only one of five sisters to serve.
To this day, we still consider her a “good soldier.” She’s mentally and physically strong, flexible, open-minded, able to “hop to” in record time, and is always ready for the next adventure.
Reunion of WAC friends in the 80’s. Margaret and one other friend are the only ones still alive.
Margaret, we salute you! Thank you for your service!
Happy Veteran’s Day, everyone!
♥ Check out the Hawai’i Army Museum website for an online tour of their exhibits.
♥ This post is brought to you by Forts, Fine Females, Fall in.
Copyright © 2010 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.