Four North State Friends who Served in the WWII Women's Army Corps
● By Irene Castro
Honor ListNovember 2014
By Irene Castro
When the United States entered World War II, thousands of American women answered the call to arms in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), later changed to Women’s Army Corps (WAC). These four incredible ladies all enlisted as soon as they were age eligible.
Lillian Hughes served as a female recruiter in Florida prior to assignment in England. She sailed there aboard the Queen Elizabeth and returned home aboard the Queen Mary. Both luxury liners had been converted to troop vessels, and all available space was used; the swimming pool on the Queen Elizabeth was converted to the dining area for the women. The Army issued just one bicycle for everyone in her barracks to use for transportation while stationed in Warrington, a repair depot for U.S. planes damaged in the war. In London, Hughes monitored the Lend-Lease Act during the buzz bombing.
The underground subway was used as bomb shelters with bedsprings anchored to the walls where civilians slept at night. Hughes was not a civilian, so she slept above ground subjected to nightly bombings, which left her with a hearing loss. Her husband, John, served as a civilian contractor for the Army in Alaska.
Betty Blom was already a licensed parachute rigger when she enlisted. It was cold and snowing when she arrived at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, and as the Army was not prepared for women, she was housed in a converted horse stable. She was fed powdered eggs and powdered potatoes that she washed down with powdered milk. After learning to drive Jeeps and half-ton trucks, she was the parachute rigger assigned to March field and then to Lindbergh Field in San Diego. Blom was the only woman assigned to the squadron of pilots. Blom’s patriotism stemmed from her family. Her father was a WWI veteran, her mother was a “Rosie the Riveter” at a shipyard and her grandmother volunteered at the USO. She wrote many stories about her time in the military. Her husband, Wallace, served in Italy and North Africa.
Marge Critton left Long Beach in 85-degree weather on a troop train, arriving in the 20-below-zero temperatures of Iowa. She became a medic and was a Ward Master at the Fort Sheridan, Ill., hospital, where she supervised five German prisoners of war. They were released from the stockade daily for hospital maintenance. Four spoke some English. Most had been forced into the “Hitler Youth” and Critton felt sorry for them, as they were such young boys. In a huge contrast to that duty, she traveled to six cities, setting up medical booths and tents as part of the revue “This is the Army Mrs. Jones” showing America what Army life was like for the “boys.” Her husband, Cecil, served in the Navy as a radioman. Critton flew to see the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., last year on the Honor Flight.
Lori Boyd had just graduated from basic training when World War II ended, and she served through the Korean War. Her first assignment was at Camp Atterbury, Ind., a prisoner of war camp for German and Italian soldiers. Bishop Fulton Sheen was scheduled to meet with the men soldiers, but Boyd was indignant that he was not visiting the women. She called his office and forcefully stated her concern to the man who answered the telephone. After a few minutes, she asked to whom she was speaking. Much to her surprise, she had just berated the bishop himself. Boyd was stationed in Japan shortly after the United States bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However, she was treated well and highly respected by the Japanese. While there, she climbed 12,388-foot Mt. Fuji. Boyd joined as an enlisted woman then completed Officers Candidate School and was promoted to lieutenant. She designed and built her home in Cottonwood.
The size of the issued uniforms was hit and a miss. Most were too large. Critton altered hers. Most of them were wool and itchy. The stockings bagged at the knees. The Hobby Hats were hard and ruined all hairdos. As they were not allowed to wear civilian clothes, they had to be very careful of their uniforms, as they were not issued extras. Even in cold weather, they were only issued skirts, never pants or long johns like the men. Yet they were all as proud of their uniforms as they were to serve. Blom says she was proud walking down the streets, as people showed respect for the uniform.
Critton says men did not want women, in the Army and that made it hard at times. Boyd’s mother did not tell her friends or family that Lori enlisted and would not accept that her daughter was in the Army. Blom says she expected to be treated like a lady, and for her, it worked. Hughes says that when the news came that the war ended, she was in bed in London and heard a lot of noise. Car horns were honking and there was shouting in the streets. She hurriedly got dressed and joined a conga line that danced through the lobby of the Dorchester Hotel and on to Buckingham Palace. The Queen was not in residence, but there were a lot of people there singing and dancing. Blom says she felt great relief the war was over, and the men were coming home. Critton vividly remembers when World War II ended, as she was stationed in Pasadena when it was announced. All worked ceased and everyone erupted in celebration and crying with joy. Boyd remembers many celebrating still in nightgowns and pajamas.
All say their military service taught them lifelong skills and values. They learned they were stronger and capable of doing so much more than they thought.
They not only served this country with honor in its time of need, but they paved the way for today’s military women to have equal status with their male comrades-in-arms.
Editor’s note: Marge Critton passed away shortly after she was interviewed
for this story. Enjoy Magazine expresses its condolences to her loved ones.