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DISCOVERY MAGAZINE

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Katherine J. Adams
is Associate Director of The Center for American History at The University of Texas at Austin.


WACS Train at Ellington Field, Texas


On December 17, 1943, the Tailspin, the base newspaper published at Ellington Field, Texas (near Houston), issued a special edition "Salute to the WACs." In the special edition, news articles, editorials, and photographs introduced readers to the sixty-eight WACs then stationed at Ellington, women who were part of the more than 150,000 American women who served in the Women's Army Corps during World War II.

The first nineteen women assigned to the Army Air Force training center near Houston had arrived in late June 1943, only days before federal legislation converted the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) into the Women's Army Corps (WAC). According to the Tailspin, "more than one GI stopped work that day when the detachment came through his section." Like their colleagues at Army bases all across the county, the Ellington Field WACs worked in noncombat Army jobs in order to free men for combat duty. "By taking over an Army job behind the lines, she frees a fighting man to join his fellow soldiers on the road to Victory," stated WAC director Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby of Texas.

The WACs stationed at Ellington in late 1943 came from twenty-nine different states. WAC commander Captain Louise E. Bain admitted that "open-mouthed surprise" was the usual reaction of Army personnel when the WACs first arrived, followed by "Well, we could use secretaries." In fact, by May 1945, Ellington WACs were handling dozens of the 239 occupations that women in uniform had taken over, including working as weather observers, dispatchers, photographers, control tower operators, radio operators and mechanics, instrument flying instructors, truck drivers, cooks, medical technicians, file and postal clerks, X-ray technicians, airplane mechanics, stenographers, teletypists, telegraph operators, dispatchers, secretaries, military police, supply sergeants, physical therapists, and librarians. Base commanding officer Colonel Walter H. Reid remarked his only complaint about the Ellington Field WACs was that he didn't have enough of them.

December's special edition "Salute" listed the entire Ellington Field WAC detachment, noting each WAC's hometown and introducing each woman with a short comment or quotation. Corporal Nina Kaiser of Baltimore, for example, was quoted as saying that the most fun in her life "was going to motor school"; Corporal Rue Hafer of Washington, Pennsylvania, disliked wearing overshoes, but "wonders how to get out of it in Texas"; and Private Bea de Gorgorza of Richmond, Virginia, "loves to write poetry in her spare time and does a fine job of it." Other news about various Ellington WACs also appeared in the paper's weekly "WAC's Museum" and in feature articles in its "Meet the WACs" column.

In May 1945, Ellington Field WAC Corporal Helen Jakupcin was named the base representative for the Army's "Typical WAC." Cpl. Jakupcin closely matched the "perfect woman soldier," according to statistics compiled by the Army Quartermaster Corps that were based on clothing measurements from distribution depots serving women soldiers all over the world. Statistics showed that the average WAC was 5 ft. 4 in. tall, weighed 128 pounds, had a waistline measuring 28.5 in., and wore a size 22 hat, size 6B shoes; size 7 gloves, size 14 dress, size 13 shirt collar, and size 9.5 hosiery.

Sergeant Gene Northern also had "typical WAC" status conferred upon her when the Tailspin featured her in "A Typical Day With An Ellington WAC" in its December 17, 1943, issue. A photographer and reporter followed Sgt. Northern through a typical day. The paper ran pictures of her waking up, brushing her teeth, sitting at "the G.I. dressing table" (while the reporter noted that "dressing is not the casual ceremony of a civilian girl"), filling medical requisitions, and relaxing at the Non-Coms' Club. The reporter described her daily routine: 6:00 a.m., "hits the deck"; dressed and ready to stand reveille by 6:20 a.m. (the reporter stated that this schedule sounded "like nothing short of a miracle to male soldiers who have cooled their No. 11's in parlors for an hour waiting for dates to dress"); 6:45 a.m., breakfast; at work by 8:00 a.m.; 11:30 a.m., lunch; noon, mail call (the "top spot in a WAC's day"); return to work by 12:30; 4:30 p.m., work ends; 5:00 p.m., dinner; and recreation until 11:00 p.m. bed check.

The WACs' evenings were unscheduled, and "Uncle Sam sees to it that his nieces remain gay and carefree during their off hours," stated the Tailspin reporter. Thursday night was WACs night out, which Houston stores accommodated by staying open late, or WACs could enjoy the Non-Coms' Club or a day room outfitted with a radio, ping-pong tables, a library, and candy machines, or see a show at the post theater. The reporter noted that WACs also took turns at K.P., had physical training three days a week, and drilled every Thursday. "Take the word of a couple of GIs; these girls-we mean soldiers-are doing a great job," the reporter concluded.

The Center for American History at The University of Texas at Austin is an archive and special collections library that facilitates research and sponsors programs on the historical development of the United States. Its resources documenting women in World War II include these photographs of Ellington Field in the Center's T. R. Havins Papers. They depict the training of WACs by illustrating their arrival at the Army base, swearing-in ceremony, training sessions involving explosives and use of gas masks, daily grooming, and post-training departure to military jobs.


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August 22, 1997
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