Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day Remembering the Ladies

The ladies?

In May 1942 the WAAC (Women's Auxiliary Army Corps) was begun as an "auxiliary" branch of the Army.  Then the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) was formed in July  1942, and about 2 months later, September 1942, the WAFS  (Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron ) was formed. Then in November 1942 the SPARS ( a contraction of the Coast Guard motto: Semper Paratus and its English translation, Always Ready, and also refers to a spar in nautical usage.), the Women's Reserve was formed.

One of the most wonderful vintage military things I've ever found is this 1940s wartime Navy WAVES jacket. As you know, I grew up near the California Veterans Home near Yountville. One of the veterans that influenced me was a darling woman named Naomi. That's NAA- OH - ME, as she used to remind us all.

She was always well-dressed, her short hair was always just beauty-parlor fresh, and her make-up was immaculate. When she lived in the Veterans Home, she had to have been about 60-something...not old, but not young!
She always wore perfume and she spoke with the vocabulary of a college graduate, a woman who was accustomed to being treated with respect. Naomi was a nurse in the WAR. She would call for a cab and most often my Dad, but sometimes my Mom, would go and pick her up, and I always begged to go along. I adored Naomi.
We'd deliver her to the diner where the Greyhound Bus stopped. Often we'd stay for a root beer float, and sit with Naomi until her bus arrived and left. She went to Los Angeles to visit family 2 or 3 times  a year. I always wanted to know more about her, but this is it.

My WAVES officers jacket is labeled JACQUES. I haven't yet found any information about her.

From US Military photo archives, this great picture of women enlisting in the services in 1943. I love the fashion!

The wonderful WAVES uniforms were designed by the Parisian couturier, Mainbocher, and was meant to mimic the male officer's uniforms. Instead of the black and gold stripes, the women were outfitted in navy-blue serge. They were issued a raincoat that was belted like a trench coat, and also a dress coat, double-breasted with brass buttons, as shown in my pictures. They had a white-topped hat with a matching muffler and gloves. There was a dark blue shirt for winter work, another shirt made from blue broadcloth, and a white shirt with a black satin neckerchief for dress. The Waves uniform had a fitted short service-dress-blue jacket and a knee-length gored skirt.

 Here, though, are 2 pictures of WAVES released 2 - 23- 44, from Moffet Field, U.S. Naval Air Station in the Bay Area of California. We see Captain McAfee returning from a blimp ride. Notice the bare legs. The men wear pants! Look at the long coat with brass buttons, the cross-body black leather purse.

This picture shows Capt. McAfee being interviewed by Yeoman 3rd Class Jean McBride. No mention of the other WAVE in the background, smiling. Perhaps that's my JACQUES.

Immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor, November 7, 1941, Jacqueline Cochran, one of the most well-known aviators of that time, tried to interest the Army Air Corps in women pilots who would be trained to fly military aircraft within the United States. Finally on Sept. 10, 1942, Nancy Harkness Love, with the support of the U.S. Air Transport Command, organized 25 women pilots into the WAFS.
The purpose of the WAFS was to deliver planes from the factory to military bases. On Aug. 5, 1943, the WAFS and WFTD (Women’s Flying Training Detachment ) merged into the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots (WASP). The history of the WASP

There's certainly many wonderful sad and evocative songs from the Big Band era, and the years of World War 2....but this one by Vera Lynn never fails to make me tear up....just a bit...after all these years...every time I hear it....Lynn's song in the final scene of Kubrick's 1964 film Dr. Strangelove, and was also used in the closing scenes of the 1986 BBC television serial The Singing Detective....and I love that series and Michael Gambon. oh  yes. Songs by the Ink Spots were in it too...songs of my little childhood.

More about the WAVES.......
The WAVES became a war division of the U.S. Navy, and was entirely women. From July 30, 1942, the "Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service", was officially the U.S. Naval Reserve (Women's Reserve), but the nickname of the WAVES stuck through the 1970s.

Eleanor Roosevelt, the WWII First Lady, convinced Congress to authorize the women's involvement in the Navy. Mildred McAfee, President of Wellesley College, was the first female commissioned officer in U.S. Navy history, and the first director of the WAVES. This was only two months after the WAAC (Women's Auxiliary Army Corps) was begun. The WAAC was an "auxiliary" organization, serving with the Army, but the WAVES was an official part of the Navy, and held the same rank, the same pay, were subject to military discipline, and held the same ratings as male personnel.

Then in July 1943, a year later after formation, WAAC became the Women's Army Corps (WAC) and then achieved military status similar to that of the WAVES. The first year, the WAVES grew to 27,000,and most did clerical work, but some took positions in the aviation community, Judge Advocate General's Corps, medical professions, communications, intelligence, storekeeper, science and technology. African-American women were not allowed to enlist until November 1944.

Although part of the "real Military", WAVES could not serve aboard combat ships or aircraft, but served in the continental United States duty until late in World War II, they were sent to some U.S. possessions, and Hawaii. Finally, in June 1948, the Women's Armed Services Integration Act was passed and finally, women gained permanent status in the armed services.