Excerpt: 'Generally Speaking'

For me, the Army held no great mysteries; I'd been raised with an understanding of its values, its traditions, and its expectations of leaders and soldiers. I also understood the Army's structure. A platoon of thirty soldiers was led by a lieutenant. There were four platoons in a company, commanded by a captain, and four companies in a battalion, whose commander was a lieutenant colonel. Traditionally, three or four battalions formed a brigade, commanded by a full colonel. The next largest unit was the division, a formation of three or more brigades. Divisions were composed of Infantry or Armor with their own organic Artillery and Combat Engineer battalions. Combat support branches-Military Intelligence, Signal Corps, and combat service support branches Quartermaster Corps, Transportation Corps, Ordnance, and so on-all had units assigned to these divisions.

In the 1960s, the WAC's 10,000 enlisted women and 1,000 officers serving in the United States and overseas officially performed "essential" duties that freed up men for assignment to combat units, from which women were barred. That had been the purpose of women in the Army since World War II. In 1942, Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers, an early champion for women's equality, introduced a bill for the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, a quasi-military group of volunteers who would fill noncombat Army jobs, mainly clerical and administrative, so that men could be assigned to fighting units. The WAAC was created on May 14, 1942, without official military status. Its members wore Army-style uniforms, but had their own enlisted and commissioned ranks and insignia, and were not governed by Army regulations or the Articles of War.

A year later there were 60,000 enlisted women and officers serving in the U.S. and overseas in a variety of assignments that included military administration, personnel processing, clerical work, vast and complex globe-spanning military post offices, and maintenance jobs in motor pools. WAAC officers were also in charge of huge military payrolls and ultrasensitive code rooms. For these positions, they were trained to use the Army Colt .45 caliber pistol, a fact that was not widely advertised during the war because the concept of armed women in uniform was anathema to many conservative members of Congress and traditional military leaders. I find this rather ironic, considering that Rosie the Riveter and other women defense workers had become collective national heroes by the second year of the war.

Despite the undeniable contribution the WAAC made, the deep-seated resistance to military women found expression in an ugly and persistent slander campaign that seemed to crop up at many posts. According to those spreading the slander, the women soldiers were disreputable. From the perspective of the late 1960s, I considered such an attitude, especially in wartime, as outrageously untrue as it was grossly unfair. But the history of the Women's Army Corps showed that the pervasive slander campaign that extended into 1944 had a definite negative effect on women volunteering for service.

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