Half a million women served in the Women's Army Corps from 1941, when it was founded as the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, to the end of the war in 1945.
The U.S. Army Chief of Staff had realised that, if war came, most of America's manpower would be needed as combat troops, and women would have to serve in the army in non-combatant roles. The attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 hastened the first slow steps being taken to recruit and train this auxiliary force.
There was considerable resistance to the founding of a women's corps, many men worrying about who would do the 'women's work,' as well as fearing that women would be put at risk or become masculinised. However, the need to have huge numbers of non-combatant staff overrode these fears, and the first women's units were trained during the spring of 1942.
The WAAC at first enjoyed positive publicity, but this gradually turned sour, partly because, in its eagerness to recruit large numbers, it was taking all sorts of unsuitable women, partly because men did not want their wives, mothers or girl-friends to serve, and partly because other women did not actually want their husbands or sons or brothers 'freed' by a woman to become combat soldiers.
A deliberate smear campaign was carried out through 1943. In particular, it accused the WAAC of harbouring or encouraging prostitution and lesbianism. (In fact, the WAAC did have a disproportionately high number of lesbians; see "Gays and Lesbians in WW II," below.)
The Army, too, despite its urgent need of staff, was slow to accept the WAAC, or WAC, as it became on 1 July, 1943. Only the deep commitment of the Wacs, their superior work, and their grace under pressure, finally won the grudging admiration of the army and, at long last, most of the public.
Wacs served both on the home front in the USA, and in combat theatres first in Europe, and later in the Pacific. They served as typists and administrative staff, telephonists, army postal workers, drivers, technicians, translators, mechanics, radio operators, aerial photograph analysts, and pilots. No WAC served in the front line as a combat soldier.
The WAC recruited African American women, but kept them in their own units. This was criticised by African American groups at the time. The African American Wacs themselves got on with the job in spite of segregation, carrying out the same duties as their white sisters-in-arms.
About a month after D-Day, Wacs were in Europe, closely following the combat troops as the Allies liberated Europe and took on the administration of the freed areas. The vast responsibilities of the army after the end of the war in Europe mean that the WAC remained in service until the end of 1946.
It was then that the U.S. Army asked that a Women's Army Corps be created as a permanent part of the army, the best testament of the WAC's service throughout the war.
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