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Women’s Army Corps veteran remembers a general's kindness

The Friends of the National World War II Memorial hosted a ceremony and wreath presentation at the World War II Memorial's Atlantic Arch to commemorate the 74 years since 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily fortified French coastline to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France.

MEREDITH TIBBETTS/STARS AND STRIPES

By CAROLINE HURLEY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 6, 2018

WASHINGTON — Vivian C. "Millie" Bailey has seen a lot in her 100 years, including her service as a lieutenant in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II.

Not only did she volunteer during a time when women were often not accepted in the military, but she also endured the racism that was rampant in the South during the 1940s.

After receiving her commission at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, she was stationed around Georgia and Alabama. She is proud of her role, saying, “I was the commander of a group of WACs. I was the person in charge, the unit commander … When you’re the person in charge, you’re responsible for everything they do.”

Bailey was among eight honorees at the National World War II Memorial Wednesday on the 74th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Europe. Sporting her Maryland WAC veteran cap, she stood in front of the memorial as the lone woman in the group of veterans.

While women were not allowed in combat during World War II, Bailey stresses that the WACs performed the same duties that the men did while stateside.

“Most people, when they hear about World War II they think that the only job you could (have) was a nurse. Back in World War I, I think that was the only job that women had, but in World War II they just had jobs, they did the same things that the men did. They worked in dispensaries, they worked in the post office, they drove some of the trucks — same jobs that the men had.”

Bailey says that she was fortunate not to experience much discrimination because she was a woman: “We didn’t experience too much of that. Some people might have, but we didn’t.”

She does, however, say that “back then, the troops were segregated, so it was a different kind of life than it is now.”

Of the racism she experienced during her time as a WAC, two memories stand out.

The first occurred during an outing while off her base in Alabama.

“The first time that I went in town off the post at Fort McClellan by myself, and the people there had not seen any (black) officers, female. And this white lady looked toward me and spit at me and said, ‘Look at that black bitch.’ And I never reacted for two reasons: back in those days, they were still lynching (blacks), so it would have been stupid to react. I never even let her know, and fortunately the spit never hit me, so I never let her know that I knew she did it.”

Not all of Bailey’s experiences in the Army went this way, though. Her second memory stands in stark contrast to the racism of the South, and is perhaps “the nicest experience I ever had,” she said.

Bailey was at a training camp in San Antonio when she realized that her commanding general was on the same train. She recalls, “When we got ready to get off the train, he was in the front, and I was about the fourth person back. All of his top brass was out to greet him, and he looked back and saw me and said, ‘After you, lieutenant.’ The shock on their faces! That was something! …

“But that was one of the nicest things – he was a gentleman before he was a general. They were looking for a four-star general and here was this little lady about 109 pounds. I had to salute them because they out-ranked me. But that was my most memorable on the positive side.”

Bailey had to run after the ceremony at the National WWII Memorial; she was off to the Washington Nationals game to be honored on the field.

hurley.caroline@stripes.com
 

The Friends of the National World War II Memorial hosted a ceremony and wreath presentation at the World War II Memorial's Atlantic Arch to commemorate the 74 years since 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily fortified French coastline to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France.
MEREDITH TIBBETTS/STARS AND STRIPES

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