By Al Vogel, Dugway Proving Ground, UtahFebruary 28, 2018
"During the time I have had WACs under my command they have met every test and task assigned to them . . . their contributions in efficiency, skill, spirit and determination are immeasurable."
-- Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1945
DUGWAY PROVING GROUND, Utah -- Praise for women seeking to serve in America's military forces wasn't always so high-borne. In May 1941, a Massachusetts congresswoman introduced a bill to create the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps to offset the shortage of able-bodied men needed for war, and "To answer an undeniable demand from American women that they be permitted to serve their country, together with the men of America, to protect and defend their cherished freedoms and democratic principles and ideals."
After a year of heated debate, the Rogers Bill passed. The Army became the first of the services to enlist women during World War II. Others followed: Navy (July 1942), Coast Guard (November 1942) and Marines (February 1943).
But resistance was still stiff: women in non-combat roles once held by male Soldiers were often dismissed as undependable, weak or of loose morals. The first WAAC units began training in July 1942 at one of five national camps.
One of the first specialized WAAC units was trained for the Chemical Warfare Service, arriving in Pine Bluff Arsenal, Arkansas, in April 1943. Dugway received the nation's second WAAC CWS unit on April 20, 1943. Their commander, Second Officer (1st Lt.) Edna M. Short of Wheatland, Pennsylvania had their Army buses stopped just outside Dog (Ditto) Area. All 92 WAACs assembled outside the buses, and marched in formation to their barracks. Onlooking G.I.s may have smirked, but their doubts were soon replaced with respect as the WAACs rolled up their sleeves and worked hard to earn it.
At Dugway, WAACs served as cooks, mechanics, photographers, lab technicians, draftsmen, field observers during mortar or rocket testing, weather observers, clerks, language translators (some spoke French, German or Japanese).
Some Dugway WAACs were highly educated as pharmacologists, neurologists and toxicologists. One Dugway WAAC declined to attend Officer Candidate School because
she had previously shared a prominent scientist with 70 other students, but now had his exclusive supervision.
Another WAAC's research in heat radiation received a commendation from the U.S. Weather Bureau. Dugway had the only WAAC glass-blower in the Army, creating specialized glassware for labs.
By September 1943, female Soldiers were no longer an auxiliary of the Army; they were Women's Army Corps, or WAC. As the end of World War II became evident, many Soldiers (male and female) sought an overseas assignment. Few received one, because the CWS feared they knew too much and might be captured. But some WACs in communications, nursing and clerical did go on from Dugway to North Africa, the Mediterranean, Europe, the Southwest Pacific, China, India, Burma, and the Middle East.
By war's end in 1945, a few hundred WACs had served at Dugway. The Women's Army Corps was abolished in 1978; women serve as Soldiers today around the world.
That 1943 march by newly trained WAACs, from their buses to barracks, carried a message now loud and clear: "We're Soldiers too."