The Employment of Personnel: Overseas Shipment
For both officers and enlisted women, a special group of personnel regulations centered around selection and assignment to overseas duty. The Auxiliary system of overseas assignment had not in many ways borne any resemblance to the Army's wartime system for men. Fearing that women overseas would be in an extremely conspicuous and demanding position, the Director's Office had issued orders:
. . . that WAAC officers selected for all overseas units be especially chosen for experience, strength of character, firmness of discipline; that auxiliaries be of a mature age and emotional stability and well-suited to perform the duties assigned.1
Candidates for shipment were habitually rejected for such causes as "fully qualified but emotionally unstable and too immature for overseas service"; "fully qualified but evinces very poor attitude." 2
Since WAAC units for overseas shipment were made up at training centers from new recruits, and were completely trained and processed on the spot, it was easy to achieve a thorough screening, with physical and mental examinations as well as job classification tests. Final movement orders were arranged by WAAC Headquarters only after personal examination of the records of each officer and auxiliary chosen.3
This system proved deficient in only one respect: while the women thus selected were on the whole highly qualified, they were only a few weeks removed from civilian life and had only a theoretical knowledge of Army terminology and procedures. Valuable time had to be spent in active theaters in giving this experience. Also, field experience often revealed unsuspected physical or emotional difficulties. Company officers just out of officer candidate school were under an especial handicap in taking a company into field conditions. While WAC personnel possibly did not require the year or eighteen months ordinarily required for men before shipment, some on-the-job training was obviously needed.4
The problem of lack of experience was intensified when the system of shipping Waacs in Table of Organization units was abandoned in favor of shipment as casuals. Shipment as casuals meant that unit training was omitted and that women could be sent overseas after only four weeks of basic training, or even less if a shipment was waiting.
To solve this problem, WAAC Headquarters adopted a system by which all new recruits, after training, were assigned to Army stations in the United States to gain experience, and were sent overseas only after proven successful on Army jobs in the field. A requisition from an overseas theater was filled by calling upon each unit in the field to give up one or more of its most successful women; these women were assembled at a central point, processed, and shipped.
A further refinement to the system was soon added by drawing women from the appropriate major command. Women destined to serve with the Air Forces overseas were taken only from air stations in the United States; hence they were familiar with the necessary terminology, regulations, and clerical forms. Similarly, women for overseas service with Ground Forces, Service Forces, Transportation Corps, and other such organizations were, insofar as possible, drawn from those organizations in the United States. This system pleased the theaters; it was also enthusiastically received by Wacs in the United States. The hope of selection for overseas service was always to remain one of the greatest morale factors in sedentary WAC units.5
Before this system was well begun, the conversion to Army status abruptly ended all special rules of selection for women. The necessary operating procedures to select and ship women were transferred from WAAC Headquarters to the Army Service Forces; which now called upon Army commands and stations, not upon WAC company commanders, to select the women. The central assembly point at a WAC training center was retained for convenience in processing; but the training center itself was also now under ASF direction.6
Informal reports from many commands indicated that quite often the difference in systems was not very great, since most station commanders, while now allowing station personnel officers to choose women as they did men, also continued to allow WAC company commanders and staff directors to comment. Formal reports from overseas, on the other hand, soon indicated that not all stations did so, and that the previous problem was in many cases being reversed: instead of receiving personnel of excellent qualifications and no field experience, theaters were receiving women with plenty of experience and no qualifications.
Protests from overseas theaters soon testified to the receipt of women with records of previous court-martial offenses, those who were habitual troublemakers, sexual offenders, and neurotics, as well as some who were merely ill, unskilled, or morons. Such theaters claimed to be at a disadvantage in that they had no time, especially during rapid forward movement, to collect evidence for board action to discharge an individual. Only one theater, the India-Burma, solved this problem to its satisfaction by merely authorizing the staff director to ship improperly selected women home with the Army board recommendation "that they be returned to the continental limits of the U.S. for reassignment to duty without stigma and that they not be reassigned to the India-Burma theater." 7
In recommending corrective action, Director Hobby pointed out that in her opinion conditions of overseas service were not identical for men and women. For an able-bodied man, overseas duty was an almost inevitable requirement, whereas less than one out of five Wacs could expect to go overseas, and the assignment tended to become a prize. For a man, overseas shipment meant probable combat service, but for a woman, merely the excitement of proximity to action. Misbehavior in a male soldier overseas was not as conspicuous as in a female one, since a female could not be sent to the front lines. Male soldiers looked upon shipment as a duty which a man should not be allowed to escape through malingering or misconduct, whereas Wacs considered the assignment a reward of merit.
A few months after the transfer of her office to G-1 Division, the Director secured publication of the requirement that WAC company commanders must certify the character of any enlisted woman shipped overseas, and that staff directors must certify WAC officers. The circular was approved by the War Department only after being carefully worded to indicate that the choice of Wacs for overseas service would still be made by male commanders in accordance with their command prerogative; the station commander's choice was merely limited to those women whose conduct was good according to WAC standards. This certification was generally effective; and overseas theaters shortly reported a noticeable improvement in the qualifications of new arrivals.8
The character-screening powers of WAC officers could not be stretched to veto the shipment of any woman whose behavior record was good, even if her physical stamina or stability appeared dubious. Army doctors and psychiatrists believed that there were many women physically and emotionally capable of service in the United States who would crack up overseas, and recommended careful physical examinations before shipment. In Auxiliary days, the European theater also requested that women get a complete physical examination before shipment, as the arrival of large numbers who had to be immediately returned for any cause, but especially for pregnancy which had existed before shipment, "would present an embarrassing situation.9 The War Department accordingly directed that Waacs going overseas be given a complete physical examination that would detect pregnancy and any disease or defect.10 This thorough WAAC examination was a departure from the Army system, since men going overseas merely got a superficial inspection.
Incorporation of the WAAC in the Army ended the authority for a physical examination for women, but, by some oversight, WAC training centers, in assembling shipments, continued to give complete overseas physical examinations under the old WAAC system for seven months after the ASF assumed control. In March of 1944, The Surgeon General's Office discovered that women were being given such an examination and ordered it
stopped, saying that men received no such examination and that
. . . it is the opinion of this office that routine mental and physical examination of every individual prior to departure for overseas duty is not essential or practicable and that the amount of work involved would not be justified. particularly in view of the shortage of medical officers.11
Director Hobby had also requested, for WAC shipments already at a port, that The Surgeon General's Office authorize a pelvic examination immediately before departure, followed, if there was any indication of pregnancy or venereal disease, by the proper specialized tests. However, it was the opinion of representatives of The Surgeon General's Office that such a system would not detect early pregnancies and that
. . . even with any means we would adopt we would be bound to have some cases of pregnancy after they get overseas. Wouldn't it be better to accept that as one of the costs of war? 12
Thereafter, the physical check given women before overseas shipment was the same in all respects as that given men, although most overseas theaters were under the later impression that it had not been equally satisfactory. Some women arrived with obvious disqualifications that necessitated immediate return, including advanced pregnancies, which resulted in headlines such as one from the Associated Press: WAC GIVES BIRTH TO BOY IN DUTCH NEW GUINEA.13 Major Craighill, The Surgeon General's consultant on women's health, stated, "Medical Officers in all overseas theaters commented on the inadequacy of screening of women for overseas duty." 14 Major Craighill noted that she considered the overseas screening system unsatisfactory but that "repeated efforts to change the policy were unsuccessful." The Director's Office therefore replied to all complaints that The Surgeon General believed the cost of returning the women to be less than the cost of physical examinations for all women sent overseas, especially since men in the Army did not receive overseas examinations.
Major Craighill likewise never succeeded in getting a psychiatric examination for women going overseas, although Army psychiatrists reported that female mental and moral crack-ups overseas could have been almost eliminated by such an examination. 15 No such examination was given for men, where the problem of screening would have been extremely complicated because of the combat factor. Although Wacs did not face the mental strain of entry into combat with the enemy, Major Craighill believed that they faced a type of combat which men did not, the defense of their character structure and their double standard of morality. She stated:
Women overseas were subjected to more tension than men by reason of their scarcity, which resulted in more emotional pressure, and because there was a more radical change in the pattern of their lives.16
Women who showed marked emotional disorders on the eve of shipment were sometimes referred to the training center psychiatrist, and some were eliminated on his recommendation, but regulations did not permit him to interview every woman. Maj. Albert Preston, Jr., the Army psychiatrist at Fort Des Moines, felt that a reasonably accurate screening process would have been possible, but in the absence of a similar requirement for men, no such system was authorized.
For psychiatric screening, as for medical, the dilemma was identical. The WAC, because of its small size, could probably with existing facilities have achieved better screening than was possible for the Army as a whole. On the one hand, the efficiency of overseas theaters would have been improved and female crack-ups prevented, but on the other, the principle of "identical" treatment would have been jeopardized by giving women more complete examinations. It was the decision of The Surgeon General's Office in both cases that improvements in screening would not be made for women until they could be made for men.
Shipment of Nonvolunteers
One point on which psychiatrists disagreed with Director Hobby was as to whether women who did not volunteer to go overseas should be forced to go if needed. It was soon proven that such women were more apt to develop psychiatric disorders which eventually forced their return to the United States. Thus, a rough psychiatric screening would have been accomplished merely by elimination of all nonvolunteers.
During the first months of the Corps' existence; there were so many volunteers that the problem never arose. As overseas shipments increased, and as overseas theaters persisted in requesting women in scarce skills, a choice was more and more often necessary between sending nonvolunteers in the desired skill or not filling the shipment. In a typical case, one company commander protested to Colonel Hobby that the station had only four WAC stenographers, none of whom wanted to go overseas because of objections from their families, yet the unit had been directed to ship two. The commander added:
The fact that we are soldiers cannot be offset in their minds by the fact that they were not drafted but came in voluntarily and on the basis that they would not be sent overseas against their wishes. Many families would never have consented had overseas duty been anything but optional.17
Congressional protests in this vein were also received, although as a matter of fact no authorized publicity and no regulation had ever promised WAC recruits that they would not go overseas if needed. Even the station job recruiting campaign was careful to state that only initial assignment to a given station was promised, with transfer not precluded.
It was the belief of Army Service Forces' Military Personnel Division that women should not be required to follow the men's rules in this case:
This distinction between male and female personnel of the Army can have no detrimental effect upon the efficiency of the WAC nor the morale of the male personnel.
However, Director Hobby recommended against any such differentiation and G-1
Division upheld her, pointing out that volunteers in scarce skills would become fewer as the war continued.18 In writing and conferences, Colonel Hobby several times stated emphatically her position:
They're soldiers now, and we have never, as you know, given out any promises of any kind . . . . They're in the Army and they're soldiers and if they are needed they are going. 19
However, the Director authorized a circular which stated that volunteers would be chosen "to the maximum extent possible." Her office also suggested that stations not having volunteers should so inform their command headquarters, so that at tempts might be made to get volunteers from other stations. The Army Air Forces devised and published an authorization for a process of quick reference to other stations in order that no nonvolunteer might be sent if there were any volunteer Wacs in the Air Forces in the same skill. In June of 1945. The Adjutant General directed all commands to survey and report the number of eligible volunteers in various skills, but V-J Day intervened to nullify the usefulness of the results.20
Objections to Filling Requisitions
The system of selecting experienced personnel from field companies, while highly popular with the enlisted women themselves and with overseas theaters, met with increasing objections from commands in the United States as the war continued. A typical objection was that offered by General Gross of the Transportation Corps, in a telephone conversation with Colonel Hobby:
General Gross: I just want to tell you of my difficulties with women . .
. . We have of course great enthusiasm for their use and we replaced enlisted men with them
and released the enlisted men because we thought we had something stable. Now,
we are forced to fill allotments for overseas . . . . I think your organization
should have its own replacement center.
Colonel Hobby: . . . You think we should take them directly from the training center and send them overseas without proving them in any way at all?
General Gross: Well, at least not prove them in the Transportation Corps.
Colonel Hobby: Maybe everybody feels that way. The War Department-and I want you to get that clear when you say my office-the War Department has approved the requisitions for the personnel where they are fighting the battles . . . . We try to cause as little dislocation as possible but we can't pull them out of thin air.21
There seemed to be no very ready solution to the problem. It appeared to be as unwise to ship Wacs without field experience as it would have been to ship men after four weeks, yet to maintain a replacement training center for the sole purpose of giving Wacs six months or more of field experience also appeared prohibitively expensive. The Adjutant General's assignment authorities attempted insofar as possible to co-ordinate assignment of new recruits to the field with simultaneous
withdrawal of experienced personnel for shipment, but such action was seldom possible when overseas shipments were made in large increments while replacements arrived in an uncertain trickle, and often in skills less essential than those withdrawn for overseas theaters.
Furthermore, The Adjutant General's allotments of new recruits were made to the major command concerned and not to the station level, so that it had no means of forcing a command headquarters to send replacements to any given station, regardless of the indignation of the station commander, if some other station had a higher priority on personnel. In any case, since only some 15 percent of the total WAC personnel ever served overseas, it did not appear that the problem of their loss had been a major one. The War Department therefore made no change in the system of shipment.
Processing for Shipment
To process overseas shipments, the Army Service Forces set up a unit called the Extended Field Service (EFS) Training Battalion. This unit, commanded by Maj. Frances M. Lathrope, operated at Fort Oglethorpe until just before that training center closed, when the unit moved to Fort Des Moines. The battalion fulfilled the functions of an overseas replacement depot for women, and in addition furnished the women's clothing and supplies that local stations and ports did not stock. No exactly comparable organization existed for men, who could ordinarily be processed locally. The unit was responsible for receiving the women, checking on their classification, forming them into casual detachments, providing clothing and equipment as specified in overseas orders, completing immunization, and administering necessary training. Women found unqualified during this time were removed and replaced from training center overhead or from a special overstrength allotted for this purpose.22
Whatever the merits of the idea, the battalion operated under such considerable handicaps as not to come into most efficient performance during the period of heaviest shipment. Enlisted women staged here wrote., "Ale have never, from Sidney to Port Moresby to the Philippines, found any quarters that remotely resembled them in discomfort.23
For most of its existence the area was classified as "temporary," which by Army Regulations meant that very little construction or repair work was permitted. Buildings had been unoccupied for some time and previously had been used by a men's reception center. They were not in the best of repair, one section being known as "Bedbug Row." In trying to eliminate this appellation, it was found that the post engineer acted upon the corpus delicti principle; even when the necessary evidence was finally caught it was discovered that fumigating materials were on the critical list and took some weeks to secure.
Before improvements could be effected, the battalion had been the subject of derogatory reports from escort officers of all of the first shipments to be processed. Transportation difficulties caused women to be retained until 2,500 were housed in space for 1,000. Through some failure of co-ordination in the first months, clothing supplies were inadequate; the Atlanta Depot refused requisitions on grounds that
it had never heard of the organization, and several shipments went to port before the situation was remedied. As a result, ports of embarkation rendered unsatisfactory reports on the first women who reached them, who were said to be poorly trained, untidy, furnished with improper equipment and ill-fitting clothing. 24
Within several months, the situation was greatly improved by the efforts of inspectors from Washington, who put considerable pressure on Fourth Service Command agencies, as well as by those of the cadre, who at times worked as long as eight weeks without a day off. Removal to Fort Des Moines also made available better facilities for such small groups as remained to be processed in the final days of the war.25
Since the training center was not officially informed as to unit destination, except as the designated port gave some clue, it was not always able to prepare individuals specifically for the proper overseas area. Also, none of the cadre or instructors had ever been overseas, and attempts to get Wacs returned from overseas met with the reply that there were, at this date, none who had completed the prescribed tour.
The ASF training course, which the EFS Battalion had no power to alter, was patterned on men's combat courses, without much consideration of the ways in which women's overseas service differed from men's. Wacs were toughened, and incidentally given head colds, by long hikes in the rain in unsuitable clothing: they swarmed up and down cargo nets; they crept up on the enemy in the field, adjusting their gas masks as gas bombs exploded around them; and practiced dispersion and seeking cover. They studied first aid, map reading, defense against chemical attack and air attack, malaria control; they got practical experience in using a compass, messing in the field, and extended kitchen police duty: they were, as one shipment said. "given endless lectures designed to confuse us about our destination."26 Their training films included such unlikely items as First Aid for Chemical Casualties, Rations in the Combat Zone, Combat Counterintelligence, and First Aid for Battle Injuries-probably as good a selection as was possible in view of the fact that there were no films to prepare women for their specific overseas problems.27
In the opinion of the Army psychiatrist at Fort Ides Moines, Major Preston, women should have been prepared, not for combat first aid or map reading, but for the peculiar social environment of a woman overseas; the certainty of an exaggerated popularity and the danger of an overemphasis on social life; the tendency of unfamiliar surroundings or homesickness to cause quick friendships, over-dependency on other women, or liaisons with married men; the probable effect of lack of privacy, lack of customary conventions, and the opportunity for excessive drinking; and especially the psychological effect of danger and restrictions.
In the last year of the war, there arose some question of the economy of the system: women already stationed on the west coast and destined for the Pacific had to be shipped to Georgia or Iowa and back for two weeks' processing, and the same was true of women in the New York area
OVERSEAS TRAINING. Women practice going down a cargo net at Fort Des Moines.
destined for Europe. After a training inspection, G-3 Division of the General Staff recommended that EFS be abolished and that two processing centers, under the control of the Chief of Transportation, be set up at ports on the east and west coasts. This recommendation was concurred in by the Air Forces and by Director Hobby. However, Military Training Division, ASF, objected to removal of the unit from its authority, saying that it would be costly to maintain stocks of WAC clothing and equipment at two places instead of one. As a result, and because of the imminent cessation of overseas shipment, no action was taken, although the subject remained open for consideration in the event of future resumption of heavier shipments from one or both coasts.28
By the end of the war there had begun to be considerable evidence that female personnel could not sustain as long a period of overseas assignment as could noncombat men. As early as the summer of 1944 Director Hobby had given some consideration to formulation of a rotation policy, and informed Maj. Gen. Stephen G. Henry, the new G-1 of the War Department, that in her opinion it might be necessary to have a policy for Army women as a separate group, "provided it can be done without detriment to the morale of enlisted men."
She recommended that a small quota of one half of one percent a month be set for those with 18 months' service. This would affect very few individuals, yet might improve the morale both of those in need of return and of those still eager to go overseas. The Director added, "I do not want to make overseas service for women so long that they will crack under it or come back abnormal in any way."29
Meanwhile, Major Craighill, after a tour of all theaters, informed The Surgeon General that in her opinion a 2-year tour should be the maximum for women. Major Craighill diagnosed the lesser endurance of women overseas as partly emotional:
Women overseas, because of their scarcity, are subject to great emotional strain . . . . There tends to be a change in standards and sense of values in both sexes. Their previous and future lives become vague and unreal so that only the present is of importance . . . . Men are apparently better able to partition off their lives adequately so that they do not as readily become deeply or permanently involved emotionally. They are, therefore, less liable to lasting psychic trauma from transient attachments.30
The recommendation of the second WAC Director, Col. Westray Battle Boyce, upon return from a postwar overseas tour, was that the maximum tour of duty for female personnel should be not more than 18 months, since "Statistics indicate that medical evacuations increase sharply for female personnel with longer service.31
While no such wartime policy was ever adopted, these opinions were reflected in the first postwar directives, which set a maximum tour for men of 30 months with a possible 6-month extension, and for Wacs, nurses, physiotherapists, and dietitians of 24 months with a possible 3-month extension. Colonel Boyce noted that this shorter tour for women was made possible
only by the high percentage of Wacs who had never been overseas and were eager to go, as against lesser percentages of men, and that "it was agreed that a two-year tour of duty for all was advisable, but present conditions would not permit it for men."32
Shipment in T/O Units
It was Colonel Boyce's opinion that the system of shipment of Wacs as casuals had been hard on morale and should be abandoned in favor of shipment as Table of Organization units. When shipped as casuals for assignment to vacancies in men's groups, Wacs found others already promoted to the grades to which their skills would have entitled them, and were often given the least desirable or responsible duties, or malassigned to work that did not use their highest skills. In a T/O unit organized in the United States, women would be assigned in accordance with real skills and would receive the grade their position was allotted. Also, in such units the WAC company commander was recognized as being in command, and thus avoided possible disciplinary complications.
Unfortunately, as its sponsors recognized, the T/O proposal had serious limitations. It would be effective only if a women's force existed in the earliest days of a mobilization period, before most of the T/O units had been organized and shipped and the need became merely that for casuals as replacements. Even if employed so early, the plan would limit women to units in which they could perform all duties, such as signal or postal. In view of the near-disastrous experience with T/O units in the United States, it would be inapplicable to large-scale use of Wacs in theater headquarters and overhead, and would prevent the overseas employment of women with unusual skills not included in a standard T/O. On the other hand, if the overseas program of the WAC remained, as in World War II, a minor part of its whole program, it appeared that serious problems of assignment would not be caused by use of the T/O system for all WAC overseas units wherever practicable.33
Effectiveness of Shipment Program
While all evidence indicated that the program of overseas shipment of Wacs could have been more effective than it was, and while deficiencies were habitually distressing to WAC personnel, there was no indication that difficulties had been as serious as those encountered by the Army in selecting, training, and shipping male personnel, especially combat troops, whose problems were considerably multiplied. The chief peculiar difficulty remained that of sending overseas only women of highly selected moral character and stability, in which respect lapses were criticized by overseas theaters considerably more than similar lapses in shipment of men. In spite of occasional perfectionist complaints from overseas theaters, the final outcome of the WAC effort to put its best personnel overseas could only be evaluated as highly successful. On a statistical average, Wacs in all overseas theaters had been the best educated, the most intelligent, and the most highly skilled of the Corps.34
Page Created August 23 2002
Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Return to the Table of Contents