In 1977 when I was a young recruit I learned to march, to salute, and to respect the uniform. I also developed a tremendous respect for the women who have worn military uniforms. I believe military women are an elite group, especially black military women. During World War II these young women faced obstacles not just because they were black but because of their gender as well. Yet they proudly met the challenge and set the bar high for those who followed.
The former Women’s Army Corps (WAC) Major Charity Adams Earley (1918-2002), commander of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion in World War II, summarized the history of women in the military when she wrote in 1989, "The future of women in the military seems assured. . . ." What may be lost in time is the story of how it happened. The barriers of sex and race were, and sometimes and still are, difficult to overcome, the second even more than the first,” Earley wrote.
In 1901 and 1908 , the Army and Navy Nurse Corps opened the door for women in the military. When the United States entered World War I, the government realized women could be valuable in uniform. And the Navy led the way by recruiting women as yeomanettes. Nearly 13,000 women enlisted in the Navy and the Marine Corps. The Coast Guard also enlisted several women who served at the Coast Guard headquarters building in Washington, D. C. With the war's end, the Coast Guard Yeomanettes, and their Navy and Marine Corps counterparts left the service. There next opportunity would not come until the second war erupted.
One North Carolina native who served in Europe under Adams Earley is a Raleigh native and classmate of one of the first black men killed during the war – Randolph Williamson, Jr who was killed onboard USS Arizona on December 7, 1941.
In 1942 Millie Dunn Veasey , half-heartedly made a pact with two friends to enlist in the Woman's Army Auxiliary Corps. An Army recruiter convinced the trio to sign enlistment contracts by telling them their enlistments would free male soldiers for assignment overseas. Veasey’s brother was already serving in the Pacific.
The three friends traveled to Fort Bragg Army base to take the entrance exams. Once at Fort Bragg Veasey says she developed cold feet. However, the army recruiter would not let her back out of her commitment to free male soldiers for overseas duty. Veasey did well enough on her entrance exams to qualify for a clerical position and before she knew it, she was in the army. Her brother, Eugene Dunn was already in the army thus Veasey says she had mixed feelings about joining the WAC. She says her brother served in the Pacific in segregated units and endured much worse treatment than his younger sister endured. She also says she often wondered if she was indirectly responsible for his overseas assignment.
Two weeks ago former Senators Elizabeth and Bob Dole organized a trip to Washington for 100 North Carolina World War II veterans to visit the World War II Memorial. One of the veterans who traveled to DC with the Doles was former WAC, Bertha Dupre. Dupre who is black told a Raleigh news caster that “The experience meant more than I ever thought it could," she said. Dupre is a veteran who is still collecting new experiences. At age 87, she is a senior at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte majoring in English and art. Trip to WWII memorial is 'heaven' for N.C. vets, Posted: Oct. 23, 2009.
Trip to WWII memorial is 'heaven' for N.C. vets :: WRAL.com
Copyright © Sharon D. Powell, 2009 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED