Showing posts with label Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. Show all posts

Monday, March 18, 2013

Military Monday: "650 WACs Defy the Subs"

My aunt Dorothy Schwartz was one of 650 WACs in WWII who sailed aboard the RMS Aquitania from New York City on July 8, 1943, arriving at dusk a week later in Gourock, Scotland. It was a risky voyage because the ship sailed alone, without a convoy, under absolute secrecy. They never knew when a German submarine might follow or attack.

RMS Aquitania in Southampton, England
Before the trip, the WACs were held incommunicado at Camp Shanks in New Jersey (guarded by MPs) until they were taken by train to the ship. As historian of the WAC Detachment of the 9th Air Force, Auntie wrote that the WACs "enacted an Ellery Queen radio mystery drama concerning the importance of being security-minded."



Doris Fleeson's article is the cover story


Famed war correspondent Doris Fleeson sailed along with Auntie and her fellow WACs, as well as hundreds of British military personnel. Later that year, Fleeson's long article about the voyage was published in Women's Home Companion as "650 WACs Defy the Subs."

In reading Fleeson's article, I was struck by her mention of "gangplankitis," which she says is "the fear of boarding a ship that might be attacked. Men soldiers have succumbed to it. Sometimes they are hospitalized. Sometimes they are carried aboard. The Wacs entirely escaped gangplankitis."

Once the Aquitania docked and the WACs disembarked, they were met by dignitaries including US Army Captain Sherman, who told them: "You are here safely. The safety of the troops to come depends upon your discretion." Quite a solemn welcome to WACs who would help the Air Force coordinate bombing of enemy targets.

The oral history of Mary Williams Elder was another good source of info about what it was like to be aboard the Aquitania as one of the 650 WACs.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Military Monday: Sgt. Dorothy Schwartz's WWII Adventures

From April 1943 to August 1945, my aunt Dorothy H. Schwartz was a member of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps serving overseas. She enlisted in Sept 1942 and was a top stenographer, training first with the 16th company, 3d regiment, Fort Des Moines U.S. Army post branch in Ft Des Moines, Iowa. She complained in a letter back home that during the fall of 1942, WAACs had not yet gotten winter uniforms. Des Moines was cold and snowy and yet "we're still in seersuckers."


Within months, she was serving overseas in support of a bombardment unit "somewhere in England," as this April 18, 1944 clipping from the Home News (Bronx, NY) indicates. It describes Sgt. Dorothy Schwartz as "daughter of Mr. & Mrs. Theodore Schwartz, 600 E. 178 St" and mentions that an old-fashioned coal stove furnishes heat for her hut, which looks like corrugated metal to me.


In 1945, Sgt. Schwartz received the Bronze Star Medal for "meritorious service in direct support of operations against the enemy."

During 17 months of bombardment leading up to V-E Day, she took shorthand listening in on the phone as commanders discussed when and where to bomb the enemy.

Her function was vitally important for ensuring that bombers received the correct orders and for coordinating military actions so our Allied troops stayed out of the way of our bombs.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

My Aunt the WAAC (later WAC)

Thanks to my niece Katie, who found a letter and some newspaper clippings in a cookbook, I know when and where my aunt was training to be a WAAC: Fort Des Moines, Iowa. Photo above is from the Fort's web site, now a historical and educational monument.

The letterhead reads: Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, Fort Des Moines, Iowa. The date: Sunday, November 29 (checking an online calendar, I see this was written in 1942). The letter was written to my grandparents.

My aunt complains of the cold because winter uniforms aren't yet available ("we're still in seersuckers"). And she talks about getting the baracks and the WAACs in shape for a formal inspection. Her closing words: "Well, let me hear from you. It's a boon and blessing to get mail, you know!"

I knew my aunt, a sgt., served in England and received the Bronze Star for "meritorious service in direct support of operations against the enemy." She was the historian for the WAC detachment, 9th Air Force, having joined the company in spring, 1943 and left it in summer, 1945. Her photo is on p. 91 of the history. Sadly, the copy in my hands was water-damaged years ago and as a result, many of the pages are stuck together.