My Mother, the WAC
November 26, 2013
World War II was raging, and my telephone operator mother wanted to do her part to assist in the war effort. She had never married, so was unattached with a family of her own. At age 40, on 22 March 1945, she enlisted in the Women’s Army Air Corps, Third Air Force at Fort Des Moines, Iowa despite being considered almost too old to enlist. Many years later, in an1992 article from the St. Joseph News-Press celebrating the WAAC’s 50th anniversary, she was quoted as saying, “I had an urge to join after seeing the girls on the streets wearing the WAAC uniform… They had the stiff hats—khaki in color—and skirts and shirts. I thought they were impressive, and I wanted to wear one.”
She was sent to Tampa and lived in a barracks with other WACs. I remember her telling about a hurricane coming through while she was there (September 16, 1945, 95 mph, unnamed) and how they boarded up the windows of the barracks and hunkered down—some very different weather to experience for an Iowa gal. While there she worked as a file clerk in the Mail and Records Office and ended up working nights, which she had hoped to change from her telephone operator career but that never happened. When the war ended and some of her WAC comrades left the service to return home, she mentions in her memoirs that she felt sad to see that fellowship end. She loved being in the service and continued to stay a few months more until her age forced her to "retire." She was sent home to Fort Des Moines, where she was honorably discharged as Private Myrtle E. Cook on October 17, 1945 after serving just over seven months.
After she was discharged, she returned home to Des Moines and wore her prized uniform to church. It was on this occasion that my father from Missouri, who was in Iowa attending a family funeral and visiting his relatives, attended the same church service. He had never married either, but when he saw her in her uniform, he was very intrigued and thought, “I have dated lots of different women, but never a WAC,” so he asked her if he could walk her home from church. She did not know him, so she declined the offer. He was not to be deterred from having a date with her, so he enlisted the help of his cousin’s wife, who knew her from church. She arranged to have dinner for them at her house, and then the four of them went to a movie. This began a long-distance relationship that eventually culminated in their marriage in June 1946 and her becoming a farmer’s wife, another big challenge in life for a city girl.
She continued to stay in touch with a few of her WAC comrades by visiting them, writing letters, and also attending several WAC reunions through the years. She held those ladies in her heart with much affection for the rest of her life.
Her service days had life-long effects that carried over to home. Being in the military, she was fastidious about the making of beds. I remember getting careful instruction from her about doing it the Army way, which she never forgot as along as she lived. A cleaning tip that she taught me from her WAC days was to wipe sprayed windows dry with newspaper, which left no streaks.
I have looked her up at the National Archives AAD website, where I can see a brief version of her enlistment information, along with other WWII army enlistees.
I am proud and grateful for her service, one of so many who so bravely left the comforts of home to work together for the greater good of our country at a time of much uncertainty. We owe all our veterans a great debt at this Thanksgiving time of year and Veteran’s Day.
Midwest Genealogy Center