COLUMBUS, Ohio –
The Department of Defense pays tribute each year to the women who pushed gender-defined barriers. They fought for what they believed in and in doing so paved the way for the women who came after them, changed the course of history and redefined the United States military.
As the nation approaches the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in September, the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute is highlighting women’s contributions on the home front and through military service. Women played an immeasurable role during WWII, serving bravely and with distinction from the initial attack on Pearl Harbor to the last days of the Pacific campaign. Read on to discover more in DEOMI’s presentation “Honoring the Past, Securing the Future.”
75th World War II Anniversary Commemoration Program
The Department of Defense is commemorating the 75th Anniversary of World War II by recognizing the contributions and sacrifices made by service members as well as those who served on the home front. The United States remains forever indebted to WWII veterans, who demonstrated selfless service and sacrifice in defense of global peace and security. We remember the legacy of the “Greatest Generation” by honoring the past.
Women on the Home Front
World War II opened a new chapter in the lives of American women. As husbands and fathers, sons and brothers shipped out to fight in Europe and the Pacific, millions of women marched into factories, offices, and military bases to work in roles traditionally reserved for men in peacetime.
Women In Industry
Between 1940 and 1945, the female percentage of the U.S. workforce increased from 27 percent to nearly 37 percent, and by 1945, nearly one out of every four married women worked outside the home. The aviation industry saw the greatest increase in female workers. By 1943, 310,000 women worked in the aircraft industry, representing 65 percent of the industry’s total workforce.
Military Service During WWII
Nearly 350,000 American women served in uniform, both at home and abroad, volunteering for the newly formed Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (later renamed the Women’s Army Corps), the Navy Women’s Reserve, the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve, the Women Airforce Service Pilots, the Army Nurse Corps and the Navy Nurse Corps.
Women Airforce Service Pilots
One of the roles women played in the war was provided by the Women Airforce Service Pilots who were the first women to fly American military aircraft. They ferried planes from factories to bases, transported cargo, and trained male pilots how to strafe targets. They accumulated more than 60 million miles in flight distances. More than 1,000 WASPs served, and 38 of them lost their lives during the war.
The WASPs were considered civil service employees and without official military status. They were granted no military honors or benefits, and it wasn’t until 1977 that the WASPs received full military status. On March 10, 2010, at a ceremony in the Capitol, the WASPs received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor Congress can award civilians.
Angels of Bataan and Corregidor
One of WWII’s greatest untold stories began on April 8, 1942, when Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, the commander of the U.S. Army in the Philippines at the time, ordered the evacuation of military and civilian nurses to the island of Corregidor. A month later Corregidor fell, and 77 U.S. Army and Navy nurses were captured by the Japanese, becoming the largest group of female prisoners of war. Removed to Santo Tomas Internment Camp in Manila, these women ran the camp hospital that ministered to Soldiers, nurses and captive civilians.
In January 1945, Allied forces retook the Philippine Islands. While thousands of men died during the course of the Philippines campaign, all 77 nurses made it through alive and cared for their patients until the liberation. As the first American women to see combat, they paved the way for today’s female Soldiers and sailors.
Women War Correspondents and Journalists
For female journalists, WWII offered an unanticipated opportunity. Talented and determined, women fought for – and won – the right to secure a place for themselves in the newsroom and on the battlefield. By war’s end, at least 127 American women had secured official military accreditation as war correspondents. Other women journalists remained on the home front to document the ways in which the country changed dramatically under wartime conditions.
These women documented history with their groundbreaking work and bravery as journalists, photographers and correspondents during the war. War correspondent May Craig best summed up their achievements in a 1944 speech at the Women’s National Press Club, “The war has given women a chance to show what they can do in the news world, and they have done well.”
For more information on the contributions of women during World War II, check out the online exhibit at the Women’s Memorial.