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Posted on Mar 1, 2005 in War College

The Role of Women and Minorities during the Second World War

By Rolando C. Delos Reyes III

“No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people, in their righteous might, will win through to absolute victory” – President Franklin Delano Roosevelt December 8, 1941

An American Victory

FDR delivered this statement in his speech to congress after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, plunging the United States of America into World War II. He called on the American people to unite in this armed struggle against tyranny and oppression. And as he predicted, America came out victorious, proving the country’s courage, determination and military might to the whole world.

While World War II was erupting in Europe, America was maintaining an isolationist attitude, reserving a large-scale involvement with other nation’s conflicts. This was reflected through the ill-preparedness of the U.S. Army in 1941, where it only had one combat ready division while Germany and Japan had 208 and 100, respectively.

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The Army also had inadequate tanks and aircraft. In a great display of patriotism, millions of American citizens volunteered to become soldiers. From an armed force of only 175,000 in 1941, the U.S. Army grew to more than 8,000,000. Along with the increase in manpower was the industrial mobilization of weapons and military equipment – after the war, the U.S. had created over 250,000 aircraft, and other war machines like tanks had the same booming growth rate.1

They fought the war in two fronts: Hitler’s Third Reich and the Japanese Imperial Army. In the end, the American flag, with its glorious stars and stripes, was waving proudly. World War II was a defining moment in American history.

Army soldiers, rangers, marines, paratroopers, sailors, pilots, nurses, industrial workers, and all civilians who contributed to the war effort- they comprise the American people that FDR was referring to, made up not only by white male Americans, but also of Women, African-Americans, American- Indians, Asian-Americans, and Hispanics.

Nowadays, when people hear the phrase “American soldiers of World War II”, they are likely to conceive images and scenes that they have seen in media. Their ideas could emanate from movies such as “Saving Private Ryan”, “Band of Brothers” HBO mini-series and World War II documentaries on cable. Indeed, these are very accurate depictions of what American soldiers went through during those tumultuous years, and they remind us how we owe them our freedom.

Yet if one would delve into history, he would notice certain parts of the equation to victory in the Second World War that also deserve equal recognition. These are the unsung heroes who fought the same war, sacrificed as much, and died with their comrades in battle. These are the soldiers who belonged to the minority groups.

Minorities in World War II

During World War II, the U.S. Army armed forces grew to 8,225,353. There were 7,181,784 white Americans (87%), 901,896 African-Americans (11%), and 141,673 Japanese, Hispanics, and other minority groups (2%) (Data from selective Service and Victory: The 4th Report of the Director of Selective Service) Though tensions of discrimination existed, American citizens with foreign ancestry were allowed to enlist and fight for the United States.2

Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps

The Second World War was not only fought in the European and Pacific battlefields. It was also being waged on the home front, where the war industry needed additional labor and resources to support the military campaigns.

In an era where inequality between sexes was still prevalent, women were not readily accepted into the Army. Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers proposed a bill to then Army’s chief of staff General George Marshall that would launch the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC).

Marshall believed that women could perform delicate jobs better than men. Women are “inherently suited to certain critical communications jobs which, while repetitious, demanded high levels of manual dexterity”.

When FDR signed the bill into a law, there was an influx of women volunteers, and by the end of the war, 150,000 American women were serving in the WAAC. Women proved to very versatile. Some worked as clerks, typists, researchers, engineers, mechanics, and electricians. Some worked in the Quartermaster Corps, the Chemical Warfare Service, the Signal Corps, and the Army Medical Department. They served as the backbone of the military, and the Army would have been crippled without their service.3

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