When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941 the United States was thrust into WWII. The need for men to fight in the Pacific and Europe against the Axis powers left a shortage of workers on the home front needed to produce the massive amounts of materials to win the fight on both fronts.
From the start of the WW2 in 1941 more than 350,000 women joined the United States Armed Forces serving abroad as well as at home. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt realized the importance women could contribute to the war effort and in coordination with General George Marshall, Congress created the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps later designated as the WACs. WACs held more than 200 non-combat positions stateside as well as being activated in every theater of the war. By the end of the war, more than 6,000 females officers and 100,000 WACs had served to bring an end to the world wide conflict. At the same time, the Navy created the WAVES, Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, holding the same status as navel reserves. Their motto was “to free a man up to fight.”
Besides holding combat positions women played other important roles on the home front. The Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP’s, was formed for women whom had already obtained their pilots licenses. This group of women became the first females to fly military aircraft. Among their many duties was to ferry new planes from the factories to assigned bases, transport cargo, and to play a major role in strafing simulations and targeting test missions. By wars end, they had flown more than 60 million flight miles and sadly 38 of the more than 1,000 WASP pilot lost their lives.
Unfortunately, the WASP’s were considered civil service employees and as such were not eligible for any military benefits. The 38 that died were not granted any military status until 1977 when they were granted full military status. In March of 2010 the WASP’s received the Congressional Gold Medal, one the highest civilian awards.
Not to be outdone, the Marine Corps and Coast Guard formed their own branches for women. On July 30, 1942 the United States Marine Corps Women’s Reserve was authorized by Congress; then signed into law by President Roosevelt. The mission of the Reserves was release officers and men for combat and active duty. Durning the war, females could be commissioned as officers or enlist and achieve rank equal to their male counterparts. The enlistment period was the duration of the war plus six months. The Women’s Marine Corps Reserve broke tradition and did not have a nick name as did other branches.
FDR was also responsible for creating the United States Coast Guard Women’s Reserve in November, 1942. Their nick name was the SPARS created from the contraction for the Coast Guard motto Semper Paratus which translated means Always Ready. Again as with the other branches their mission was to release men for combat duty. Because of Coast Guard regulations women were not allowed to serve outside the continental United States nor were they able to issue orders to any male serviceman. The first unit of SPARS was created from 153 enlisted women and 15 officers who were discharged from the WAVES and agreed to join the SPARS.