WWII Women Veterans
Stories from World War II Women Veterans Living in the East Valley as told by CGCC Students in partnership with Chandler Museum's Public History Program
Overview of WWII
 

Researched and written by: Kara Kegerreis and Ellie Fierro
 
1941 was a fine time to be an American.  Cars were curvy, movies in black and white, cigarettes were not considered bad for you, and war was simply thought of as a battle of good and evil.  The good times came to a stop when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and the year ended with a shrill shock of "infamy" and death.  This event brought Americans into World War Two.  
 
World War Two was fought in two major places, the Pacific and in Europe.  The war in Europe began when the German Army invaded Czechoslovakia on March 15, 1939.  The Japanese became allies with Germany in the war and began military aggression, creating a war front in the Pacific. The European conflict ended six years later, when General Alfred Jodl signed the official surrender of Nazi Germany on May 8, 1945.  Winston Churchill immediately announced that this day would be a national holiday known as Victory in Europe (VE) Day. Later, the war ended with Victory over Japan (VJ) on September 2, 1945 when Douglas McArthur accepted Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay.   
 
World War II affected Arizona in many ways.  There were military bases established, such as Davis-Monthan, Luke Field, Williams Field, and others that helped sustain the war effort in the Pacific.  "All Arizona became an armed camp between 1940 -1946", writes Dean Smith in Arizona Goes To War.  Williams Field was established, named in honor of Charles Linton Williams, an Arizona-born pilot. In January 1948 Williams Field was designated as Williams Air Force Base (WAFB).  This base became the best place to train pilots, graduating more student pilots and instructors than any other base in the country.  In fact, many of the soldiers stationed in these places made a life in Arizona and became Arizonians.  The war also brought other nationalities to Arizona such as Britain, Austria, China and some other nations. Native Americans from Arizona participated in the war as well, some as code talkers.  Ninety-nine percent of Native Americans registered with selective service by 1942.  This was the largest ethnic group to make a per capita contribution to wartime service.
   
Prisoner of War (POW) camps were established, and brought many people to Arizona as well.  On June 1, 1945 there were 16,844 POWs reported in 18 POW camps in Arizona.  Two of the major camps were in Florence and one in Papago Park.  Many POWs felt fortunate to be in Arizona rather than in the trenches of war.  Japanese Americans have few good memories of WWII because of the racism they experienced during that time. The Japanese Americans were expelled from certain states because they were considered a threat to America because their loyalty was in question.   Japanese internment camps were established in several states, two main camps located in Arizona.  One of these camps was the Gila River Internment Camp, located on the Gila River Indian Reservation.  Despite their traumatic experience, the camp residents contributed to the war effort.  Their contributions ranged from cooperating with government orders, helping make the camps self-sufficient as possible, and working in war-related industries established within the camps, to joining the armed services and women's auxiliary corps when possible.
  
 Americans were all affected by the war on the home front. Everyone was urged to conserve metal and cloth to make things like uniforms and bombshells for the war.  The federal government also compelled Americans to cut back on foodstuffs and consumer goods. People needed ration cards to purchase items such as gasoline, coffee, sugar, and meat.  Many Americans were frustrated by this concept because for the first time in years they had money to spend but there was little available for purchase.  
 
World War II changed the way women were viewed in the workforce and in the military. Because of the shortage of men due to the war, women were thrust into the workforce in which inevitably changed their roles in the workplace forever.  Over 6 million women took jobs for the first time during WWII, a 57 percent rise in working women. They began working in blue collar jobs, previously available only to men. As many as 2 million women entered defense plants making airplane frames, engines, propellers, parachutes, gas masks, and electrical equipment. These women worked long hours only to go home and cook and clean for their family. The American media nicknamed these women "Rosie the Riveter". The war also had jobs available to women to work in the war itself.  These women played an active role in the war in journalism, and some were secret agents.  
 
Although women's lives were changing on the home front, they were also changing in the military as well. More than 350,000 women served during the war, most of them nurses or doing clerical and support work. There were five major branches that women served in, including SPARS, WAVES, WASPS, WAACs, and WACs. The SPARS, (Semper Paratus "Always Prepared") were the women coast guard, created in November of 1942. Accepted on the same basis as male reservists, they served in a variety of ways to release men for the front lines. The WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) were women that served in the Navy and Marines. The WAVES were formed on July 30, 1942 and as many as 100,000 women served as WAVES throughout the remainder of the war. In the WASPS, Women's Air force Service Pilots, women flew planes just as the men did. Unlike other military occupations for women, WASPS had to have a pilot's license, and volunteer for a six month training program. There were so many women applying for the air force, that many were not accommodated. In 1944 the WASPS were disbanded and it was not until 1977 that 1074 WASPS achieved veteran status.
 
The WAACS (Women's Army Auxiliary Corps) were established on May 15, 1942. Although they were part of the military they only gained partial military status, which enabled them to receive the same legal protection and benefits as men. On July 1, 1943, Congress abolished the WAAC and in turn formed the WAC (Women's Army Corp), which granted women the same pay and rank titles as male reservists.  These women served in many positions that normally men would do. One example of service is the story of the late Solange (Sally) M. Cloutier Grambley of Massachusetts. Mrs. Grambley enlisted in the Women's Auxiliary Army Corp on September 1, 1943. She was discharged at Camp Beale, CA on November 19, 1945 as a ranking Sergeant in the US Army Air Force. While she served as a WAAC at Williams Air Force Base she serviced AT 6 and BT-13 aircraft, drove an F-2 fuel truck driver, and operated special equipment as a Corporal. She received the Good Conduct Metal, American Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, and WAAC Service Ribbon. Mrs. Grambley's story reveals how valuable women were to the military during WWII, with their extreme dedication and duty to the United States of America.  
 
World War II transformed women's roles in the workplace and society, but for many it did not last forever. After the war had come to an end, many women left industrial work and military service and readjusted back to home life. With the men returning home to their jobs, the need for women's labor diminished, and without turning back, "Rosie the Riveter" became an icon in history. The women who served in WWII, whether it be on the home front or in the military, should always be remembered as valuable participants in the United States victory.
 
"Whether one applauds or deplores their presence
and their actions, women have always been part
of war. To ignore this fact grossly distorts our
understanding of human history" (De Pauw).

Back to Community History Home

Military Women in WWII

WASPS

Women in the Army Corps

Sally Grambly

Women Working on the Homefront