Women In Our Armed Services – A three-cent stamp issued in 1952

This 1952 stamp belatedly acknowledged women’s military roles in World War II, as well as the 1948 Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, when Congress integrated the new women’s services into the peacetime military.  For more than three years, between the 1945 end of the war and the 1948 law, women who wanted to serve in the military hung in limbo, not knowing if there would be a place for them.  Many active servicewomen were demobilized against their will.

From left to right, the images depict the Marine Corps, the Women’s Army Corps, the Navy, and the Air Force.

The Marines were the last female unit created during World War II – even though there had been “Marinettes” (and, in the Navy, “Yeomen Female”) during World War I.   On the positive side, though, when the Marine Corps began its unit in 1943, midway through the war, it was the least sexist.  Women were simply “Marines,” with none of the cutesy terms attached to those in other services.  Moreover, they trained at the historically tough Marine base of Parris Island, South Carolina.

The second image shows a WAC – an unfortunate name that initially was WAAC, or Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps.  It was the first, with Massachusetts Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers filing the enacting legislation on Christmas Eve, 1941 – very soon after Japan bombed Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor.   “Auxiliary” was removed from the name in 1943 because of technical legal problems, but the name continued to be the source of countless jokes about being “wacky.”  A hundred thousand WACs nonetheless made a gallant contribution to World War II:  they served on all fronts, including Africa, Europe, and the Pacific, and many earned high decorations for bravery.

The third image, that of the Navy, was the WAVES in World War II.  It began soon after the WAC, with its lead congressional sponsor being Margaret Chase Smith of Maine.  The name was designed as an acronym, with the rarely used words -- Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service -- fitted around the abbreviation.  Approximately a hundred thousand women enlisted in the WAVES, but unlike the WAC, were not allowed to go abroad.  They trained on college campuses and made up 80% of Navy personnel in Washington.  WAVES were so common there, in fact, that upon seeing a Navy man, a child exclaimed to his mother:  “Look, a boy WAVE!”

The last image is that of the Women’s Air Force, or WAF.  The Air Force did not exist as a separate entity in World War II:  both the Army and the Navy had their own aviators under their command.  WACs who were assigned to the Army Air Corps, however, informally were known as Air WACs.  They did not fly, but worked as mechanics, taught courses such as celestial navigation to all-male classes, and trained men on flight simulators.

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