Hampton Roads during WWII: the WAVES

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Celestial pathfinder Waneta Miller handles a sextant.

Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) was the women’s branch of the Naval Reserves during World War II. The WAVES was created on July 30, 1942 when President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Navy’s Women’s Reserve Act into law. Similar to the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) the WAVES was enacted to allow women to take over certain jobs in the Navy and free up men for sea duty. WAVES were allowed to enlist and were then able to apply for officer’s candidate school. However, it was implied that at the close of WWII, the WAVES would be disbanded.  Mildred H. McAfee served as the first director of the WAVES, beginning at Lt. Commander and was eventually promoted to Captain. 

Women were first able to enlist in the Navy Reserves in World War I as Female Yoemen. This program began in 1917, and the women who joined enlisted for the same reason that women joined the WAVES in WWII; patriotism and a desire to help end the war earlier. Female Yeomen were disbanded in 1920, and nurses remained the only women in the navy until 1942, when the WAVES were created.    Read more

Hampton Roads During WWII: USO Clubs

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Dance floor at Service Club C. Naval Ammunition Depot Band played for the benefit of Enlisted men & their ladies to gave a round of applause to Lt. Burgess for his efforts in making the evening a success. (archive number P0003/01-#J-9176)

While the most recognizable way for individuals to serve their country at times of war is through the service branches, there have historically been many other ways in which people served their country abroad and at home. For example, the United Service Organizations, better known as USO, a nonprofit-charitable organization which provides leisure facilities and shows to United States Armed Forces was founded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1941, to “unite several service associations into one organization to lift the morale of [the] military and nourish support on the home front” (USO.com/about).

In fact, during World War II, there were estimated to be about 3,000 USO clubs worldwide, and Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation was no exception. USO clubs helped soldiers feel at home and gave them the opportunity to step away from the job and the realities of war. They provided leisure, like dances, ping pong tables, and other games; entertainment, sometimes local bands or even Hollywood celebrities would make an appearance (!); and they often had a snack bar, too, selling sandwiches, smokes and soda (but not liquor!) to service people.   Read more

Hampton Roads during WWII: Army Nurse Corps

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Major Walter C. Stebbins stands with the 81st Field Hospital Unit during debarkation. To his right is Captain Eileen E. Donnelly Chief Nurse of the 81st Field Hospital Unit since its activation.

The United States Army Nurse Corps (ANC) was formally established by the US Congress in 1901. Women served as nurses in previous wars, but it wasn’t until 1901 that they were officially on Army Payroll. The ANC did not see large numbers of active duty nurses until World War I, when 20,000 registered Nurses joined. Numbers dropped after the end of WWI, and in 1941 there were fewer than 1,000 Nurses in the ANC. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor numbers quickly grew; six months later there were over 12,000 on duty Nurses. Over the course of World War II, over 59,000 nurses served in the ANC, many serving abroad in North Africa, England, Burma and the Southwest Pacific

While many of the enrollees had nursing experience, few had military experience. A four week training course was instituted for ANC Nurses which taught Army organization; military customs and courtesies; field sanitation; defense against air, chemical, and mechanized attack; personnel administration; military requisitions and correspondence, and property responsibility. Nurses worked in all areas of the army-they went wherever the wounded were, and during WWII they worked close to the front lines. Nurses served under fire in field hospitals and evacuation hospitals, on hospital trains and hospital ships, and as flight nurses on medical transport planes.    Read more

Hampton Roads during WWII: the WACs

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The Women’s Army Corps (WAC) was formed in 1942; originally it was the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), but it was converted to active duty status in 1943. This made WACs unique to other women’s military groups, because it was the first time, and the only group, that integrated women into the United States Military. Around 150,000 women volunteered to serve in the WAC during World War II. Women were not allowed to fulfill ‘active combat’ roles in the military, but that still left over 250 support roles in the army to step into, from stenographer to map maker, photographer to truck driver, mechanic to switchboard operator. All of these positions were vital to the war effort. Many of the women who joined the WAC had a relative or sweetheart already serving, and hoped to bring their loved ones home sooner by aiding in the war effort. 

Most of these women served on the homefront, taking over office and other non-combat jobs so that men were able to go overseas to fight. These women were stationed in every type of state-side Army installation, working with the Army Service Forces, Ground Forces, the Army Air Forces, and in Army Hospitals.   Read more

Hampton Roads During WWII

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Overhead view of Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation

The Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation (HRPE) was the Army command structure and distribution port in Hampton Roads, Virginia. It was originally the Newport News Port of Embarkation when it was activated for World War I, and it was reactivated as the HRPE on 15 June 1942, in the wake of Pearl Harbor and the US’ entrance in World War II.

The main purpose of the Port was supporting the movement of personnel and cargo overseas, particularly to the European Theater of Operations (ETO). HRPE was the third largest US Army Transportation Corps port of embarkation during WWII. It served as a hub for the movements of millions of troops between 1942-1946.    Read more