By Mr. Eric Pilgrim (Fort Knox news)March 16, 2018
Times were very different for Army women during World War II.
In October 1944, Col. N.B. Briscoe, the Fort Knox commander, set a precedent that could have been considered ahead of the times. He appointed two Women's Army Corps members as gate guards at Control Point B, the chokepoint for all of the installation's major roads.
The first two women appointed to the historic position, according to an Oct. 1, 1944, Louisville Courier-Journal article, were Pfc. Lonnie Krenkel, a truck driver from Portales, New Mexico, and Pfc. Helen Patista, a beautician from Natick, Massachusetts.
The difference between coverage of their appointment back then compared to today is revealed in the headline: "Drivers whistle at these cops," followed by the lead paragraph: "Things are looking up at Control Point B … trip-ticket checks at the post's entrance are hailed by Military Police who don't carry guns, don't snarl in the accustomed manner, and wear lipstick to boot!"
That was the way it was in the Women's Army Corps back then, according to Matthew Rector, a historic preservation specialist at the Fort Knox Cultural Resources Office.
The Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, commonly known as the WAAC, was officially established in 1942 to assist the Army "for the purpose of making available to the national defense the knowledge, skill, and special training of the women of the nation."
However, it didn't initially grant its members military status, said Rector.
That didn't occur until the following year, right around the time Krenkel and Patista had enlisted. In 1943, Army leaders changed the WAAC to the Women's Army Corps, or WAC, which entitled women to share the ranks, privileges and benefits provided to regular Soldiers.
"It gave women an opportunity to serve in a way they had never served before," said Rector.
About 150,000 American women would serve in the WAC during World War II, many serving overseas. Before VJ Day, efforts had already been made to give women reserve status.
It was 1948 before the WAC became a part of the Army establishment, including reserve status. The Army eventually disestablished it in 1978.
Rector pointed out that while the steps forward may not have been as fast as some would have wanted, the Army did integrate women into the service, and continues to do so today.
Women now serve in combat units, in combat, and lead men into combat. They hold positions they never held before. Some even anticipate a future woman Army Chief of Staff.
"I just know that the future leader of the Army is going to be a woman because that person is going to be infantry and come up through the ranks and do it. I know they can," said Maj. Gen. Marion Garcia during a Feb. 7 Women Leadership Roundtable Discussion with a bipartisan congressional staff delegation at the Pentagon.
Garcia leads 200th Military Police Command at Fort Meade, Maryland -- 74 years after two women manned a gate at Fort Knox.