More than 16 million Americans answered the call when Uncle Sam said he wanted them for the U.S. Armed Services during World War II.

It wasn’t just G.I. Joes who answered that call, however. About 150,000 women joined the Women’s Army Corps. Among them was Mildred Drawbaugh, known as Millie to her friends. 

“I’m glad I went and could do what I did for the service,” said Millie Moore. She lives in Crossville now near her son, John, and daughter-in-law Barbara. 

The Women’s Army Corp recruits were the first women to serve in the U.S. Army, other than nurses. But the U.S. had entered World War II in 1941 with two war fronts. They needed more people. Soon, leaders realized women could take on these roles in support of the war effort. 

Edith Nourse Rogers, Congresswoman from Massachusetts, started working on a bill to establish an Army women’s corps in 1941. She and General George C. Marshall, the Army’s Chief of Staff, hammered out the details on the auxiliary unit that would work with the Army. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941, Congress was ready to consider the bill.

Marshall supported the bill as it wound its way through Congressional debates. The Army, he said, didn’t have time to train men in service skills like typing or switchboard operations. The bill was approved in May 1942 and recruitment soon began for the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps.

Congress converted the auxiliary, which was separate but worked with the army, to the Women’s Army Corps, a part of the U.S. Army that provided women with pay, privileges and protection equal to that of the men. 

Among those early recruits was Millie. She’d heard about the new program while at school. 

“I was young and there was nothing to do,” Millie said. “I thought that would be interesting — and it was.”

She was one of 13 children in the family. He father, John Drawbaugh, was a stone mason and tenant farmer in Pennsylvania Dutch country. Millie was attending Bible college when the Army began recruiting women. 

“In a family like that, we were glad to get away from each other,” she joked.

Applicants had to be between the ages of 21 and 45 with no dependents. More than 35,000 women applied for the anticipated 1,000 officer positions. In July 1942, applications began for the enlisted women. The first women were trained at Fort Des Moines. As the officers and enlisted women graduated from their schools, they took on the job of training new women entering the WAAC training centers in Daytona Beach, FL; Fort Devens, MA; and Fort Oglethorpe, GA — where Millie was sent.

When she returned to Fort Oglethorpe years later with her family, she found the site of her barracks. The parade grounds had been made into a museum.

Women were trained in a variety of jobs during basic training, including driving. Millie recalls being trained in basic weaponry to ensure she could handle a firearm, though she never carried a weapon. 

She also had to jump from the deck of a ship so that she would know what to do to help herself, should the need arise. 

About 40% of the women were assigned to Army Service Forces. They worked in the Ordnance Department, Transportation Corps, Chemical Warfare Services, Quartermaster Corps, Signal Corps and Army Medical Department. Some were assigned to the Corps of Engineers and sent to Manhattan Project sites around the country. 

Millie was among the first group of WAC troops to go overseas. She traveled on the Queen Mary sleeping on the deck to avoid the stifling conditions below decks. 

She was sent to Northern Africa and Italy. 

She served as a supply sergeant in a postal unit responsible for getting mail to the forward areas. She earned the rank of staff sergeant. 

“You had to work for your rank,” she said. “If you didn’t work for it, you didn’t get it.”

The women’s units earned high praise in North Africa and the Mediterranean regions. Soon, there were requests for WAC units from other overseas areas. 

She was able to visit the Vatican and Pompeii. She rode a camel in Northern Africa. 

When the women would leave the post for liberty, they had to have their uniforms inspected. The girls would try to wear their stockings inside out to make the seam smoother, she said. If the guards noticed what they had done, they would be sent back to the barracks to change and meet the Army’s uniform standards. 

“You weren’t allowed out,” she said. 

As a staff sergeant, Millie was responsible for a group of enlisted women. When they would leave, she would tell them, “Don’t come back empty-handed — even if all you can find is an old rolled-up newspaper.”

She was overseas for 29 months, serving in Algiers, North Africa, and Caserta, Italy. She was awarded a Battle Star for the Rome-Arno battle.

Millie was discharged in 1945 as World War II came to a close. The Army demobilized the corps after Victory in Europe Day. In 1946, the Army asked Congress to allow it to establish a permanent Women’s Army Corps as a part of the regular army. The bill became law in 1948. The Women’s Army Corps remained a separate part of the U.S. Army until 1978 when women were allowed in all but the combat branches of the Army.

Millie returned to Pennsylvania where she tried to keep as busy as she had been during the war. Her brother was a firefighter and he would bring around a friend named John Moore, a volunteer firefighter and former U.S. Marine.

A relationship bloomed and the two were married and had three children: John, Karen and Cheryl.

“There was nobody like him,” Millie said of her groom. “He was the best guy there ever was.”

An ongoing joke within the family was that Millie outranked her husband. While Millie had left the service as a staff sergeant, John had left the Marines as a sergeant. 

“I would pull rank,” she said. 

She lived in Jacobus, PA, for over 50 years, working at various jobs and raising her family. She added six grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren, 1 great-great-grandchild to her family roster over the intervening years.

She kept in touch with some of the other women with whom she served, including a first lieutenant named Mac. The two would visit and reminisce about their time in service while enjoying highballs at the kitchen table.

After John passed away, she moved to Crab Orchard with son John and wife, Barbara. 

“I enjoyed it and, if I could do it over again, I’d do it over again,” she said, holding the dog tags and first driver’s license found among her military service memorabilia. 

Millie will be celebrating her 100th birthday Nov. 23 at the Elks Lodge on Genesis Rd. Festivities begin at 2 p.m. with dinner at 3 p.m. No gifts, please — just memories, conversation and pictures are requested. Please RSVP to John at 931-200-2411.

 

 

Heather Mullinix is editor of the Crossville Chronicle. She covers schools and education in Cumberland County. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.

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