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

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Saluting My Family's WWII Veterans

During World War II, a number of family members served in the military. I'm proud and grateful for their service!

Above left, my father Harold Burk (1909-1978) was a personnel clerk and Technician 5th grade in the 3163d Army Signal Service Corps, supporting combat troops in Central Europe and Germany.

Above right, Harold's brother, my uncle Sidney Burk (1914-1995), was (I believe) serving on staff for the Judge Advocate General in Hawaii during WWII.

My aunt Dorothy Schwartz (1919-2001), shown in the news clipping at right, was a sergeant in the Women's Army Corps and received the Bronze Star for supporting bombardment forces in Belgium, France, England, and elsewhere in Europe. The story of her harrowing wartime voyage across the Atlantic with hundreds of WACs and British military is here.

Her brother, my uncle Frederick Shaw (1912-1991), was an Army staff sergeant who trained troops in a number of Southern installations from 1943 to 1945.

In addition, cousins on both sides of the family were in the military. Thank you!

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.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Citizens of London: Sgt. Schwartz and WWII

Sgt. Dorothy H. Schwartz, my mother's twin sister, was a  member of the WAC (Women's Army Corps) Detachment of the 9th Air Division (and its historian). She joined the detachment on April 23, 1943 and left it on August 21, 1945.

Auntie Dorothy was one of four stenographers who worked in shifts 24/7 to take notes about changes in aircraft movements and other operational activities vital to the air war. For her support during the period leading up to V-E Day, she received a Bronze Star Medal!

Dorothy was in England for much of her service, following intensive stateside training. So I was very interested in reading the lively, well-written book Citizens of London by Lynne Olson, all about the Americans who "stood with Britain in its darkest, finest hour" (as the cover says). Prominent people like Averell Harriman, Edward R. Murrow, and John Gilbert Winant formed close ties to the people of England before and during WWII, staying in or near London as the war progressed and letting America and the world know about the danger and the courage. Not dull, not dry, and very relevant to folks like me who had family members in the war and in Britain.

Olson conveys a wonderful sense of the ups and downs of daily life in London and beyond: What it was like to live in cities under nightly attack from bombs...how American military personnel swarmed in as D-Day approached and turned rural villages into bustling depots for supplies and training...the feeling of "live for today" because tomorrow was very uncertain...the joy of eating an orange after not seeing one for two years...and finally, the strong and enduring "special relationship" between the British and the Americans, personal as well as political.

My aunt was befriended by a family in the British countryside, an experience very much like what Olson describes happening to U.S. GIs and pilots during 1944-5. I have several letters from the family, who wrote to my grandparents (Hermina Farkas Schwartz and Theodore Schwartz) to rave about my aunt and offer reassurances that she looked well and she was being taken care of. Did my aunt stay in touch after the war? I don't know, but I'm grateful that she had caring people around her while she was so far from home for the very first time, in her mid-20s.

Note: One of the comments below is from the VOGW, a group that is honoring Allied troops from WWII who are buried in Waalwijk and compiling information about the role of women in WWII. Visit their site here.

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.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

For Veterans' Day

My aunt Dorothy Schwartz was on active duty with the Women's Army Corps starting Sept. 11, 1942. She got her separation papers on August 31, 1945 after having been stationed in Europe.

She was discharged with the rank of Sergeant, having received a Certificate of Merit and a Bronze Star for "meritorious service in direct support of military operations" from 1943 to 1945.

One of her letters is included in the book With love, Jane, a compilation of correspondence from American women on the war front.

In addition, she was the historian of the Woman's Army Corps Detachment, HQ, 9th Air Division in 1944-1945.

In honor of Veterans' Day, I honor her memory and salute all our vets.