Created in May 1942, the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) formed a branch of the U.S. Army. In July 1943, WAAC lost its auxiliary status to attain full standing as the Women's Army Corp (WAC). During World War II, over 4,000 African American women served in the WAC and Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES), and fewer numbers of American Indian, Chinese and Japanese American, and Puerto Rican women. The Army Nurse Corps drew women, and segregated from white women, African American nurses served in and tended to all–African American units. Two Chinese American women, Maggie Gee from California and Hazel Ying Lee from Oregon, were among the 1,074 who made it into the elite Women's Airforce Service Pilots Program (WASP), flight testing damaged and repaired aircraft and ferrying domestic deliveries.
The first Japanese American women were accepted into the WAC in October 1943. They entered as volunteers, unlike most Japanese American men who were drafted into the army. A majority of the women volunteers joined the WAC after having left the concentration camps while others came from Hawai'i and from states outside the Western Defense Command. Twenty-six nisei women in Hawai'i were the first Japanese Americans to train for the WAC in 1943, and on the continent, a group of seven trained at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, a year later. A total of about 50 nisei women from Fort Snelling served in the Military Intelligence Service to work as translators but not prisoner-of-war (POW) interrogators like the men. Japanese American WACs were assigned to medical units throughout the United States, in the public information office, and as typists, clerks, and researchers in occupied Japan and Germany after the war. In all, an estimated 300 Japanese American women served in the WAC during World War II, and when open to them, the U.S. Cadet Nursing Corps enlisted more than 200 nisei women.
Ruth Fujii recalled working at McKinley High School in Honolulu during the war when “my girlfriend called and said we could get silk stockings if we joined the WACs so the very next morning, we registered” (Hazama and Komeiji, 171). Her brothers were unqualified for the service “so I wanted to represent the Fujii family” in the war effort. Instead of being angry with her, Fujii was relieved to find, “my family was proud of me.” She completed her basic training in 1945, and after graduating the Army placed Fujii in a typing pool, serving in General Douglas MacArthur's
office in the Philippines and on General George C. Marshall's staff in Nanjing.
Participating in the war effort for Japanese Americans, both men and women, held significance beyond mere patriotism; they had to prove their worth as U.S. citizens. “I felt that the Nisei had to do more than give lip service to the United States and by joining the WACs I could prove my sincerity,” said a volunteer from Heart Mountain concentration camp. “After all, this is everybody's war and we all have to put an equal share into it.” Sue Suzuko (Ogata) Kato added, “I joined the WACs—and this may sound like flag-waving—to prove my Americanism.” Kato trained at Fort Snelling, and was assigned to Fort Devens, Massachusetts, after her basic training. She wound up in Washington, D.C., translating Japanese-language documents for the intelligence corps (Nakano, 169, 170).
Gary Y. Okihiro
Hazama, Dorothy Ochiai and Jane Okamoto Komeiji. Okage Sama De: The Japanese in Hawai'i, 1885–1985. Honolulu: Bess Press, 1986.
Nakano, Mei T. Japanese American Women: Three Generations, 1890–1990. Berkeley: Mina Press, 1990.