FREE A MARINE TO FIGHT: Women Marines in World War II
by Colonel Mary V Stremlow, USMCR (Ret)
The most open-minded military units throughout the
war and after were the aviation components of all the services.
Presumably because they were relative pioneers themselves, aviation
leaders were less tradition-bound, and they enthusiastically asked for
large numbers of women and were willing to assign them to technical
fields. Marines were no exception and right away asked for 9,100.
Eventually, nearly one-third of the Women Reservists served in aviation
at Marine Corps Air Stations (MCAS) at Cherry Point, Edenton, Santa
Barbara, El Toro, Parris Island, Mojave, El Centro, Quantico, Ewa, and
at the Marine Corps Aviation Depot (MCAD) in Miramar.
Because of the large number of women posted to air
commands, Aviation Women's Reserve Squadrons were formed: Number 1 at
Mojave; Number 2 at Santa Barbara; Number 3 at El Centro; Numbers 4 and
5 at Miramar; Numbers 6-10 at El Toro; Number 11 at Parris Island;
Number 12 at Ewa; Numbers 15-20 at Cherry Point; and Number 21 at
Chief TSgt Selma "Rusty" Olson, standing below the propeller, directs a
WR repair crew servicing a North American Mitchell B-25 bomber at Cherry
Point in March 1945. In the war, 40 percent of the women Marines held
jobs in aviation. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 8927
Matching Skills to Needs
World War II changed for all time the notion of
proper women's work. In the Armed Forces as in civilian life, necessity
caused the rules to be rewritten and while an effort was made to fit the
women into jobs related to their former occupations, there was, by
necessity, an openness to new ideas. Fewer Marine women than civilians
were used as stenographers and general clerks, but more were as signed
as typists; fewer were used as office machine operators, but far more
were assigned to supply and supervisory work. Fewer women Marines were
considered professionals in the Corps, but this was due to the large
number of school teachers who enlisted but could not be used as
Fewer women were used in skilled trades than came
from these jobs in civilian life, but more women proportionately were
used in mechanical jobs than came from these jobs as civilians
especially in aviation.
In 1945, looking towards the future, Colonel Streeter
suggested that if women were ever again to be enlisted into the Marine
Corps, the whole process of classification and assignment could be
greatly improved if all jobs were categorized into four classes:
Class I jobs in which women are better, more efficient than men.
Class II jobs in which women are as good as men, i.e., they can or
did replace men on a one-to-one basis.
Class III jobs in which women are not as good as men, but it is
possible to use them if the need is great.
Class IV jobs in which women cannot or should not be used at all.
Women's Reserve Employment
At the end of the war a statistical breakdown of the
17,672 women on duty on 1 June 1945 showed them working on the following
|Clerical: Supervisory or Administrative||498|
|Clerical: Office Machine Operators||127|
|Skilled Trades Aviation||83|
|Skilled Trades Non-Aviation||261|
|General Duty: not elsewhere classified, Basic no SSN|
|* 6 women unaccounted for|
Administration of Women
Until February 1944, the Women's Reserve Section,
Officer Procurement Division, a entity within the Division of Reserve,
handled most administrative matters concerning Women Reservists. Then,
as a result of a reorganization at Headquarters, all matters involving
recruiting, uniforming, recreation and welfare, plans and training were
transferred to the appropriate departments and divisions, stripping the
Women's Reserve Section of much of its work. After that, its principal
duties were: to form and move basic training classes to the recruit
depot, to make appropriate selections for officer candidate school, to
process resignations and separations of MCWR officers, and to maintain
the records and handle correspondence concerning the above matters.
In essence, the MCWR as an organization was always
more a perception than reality. Generally, the women were regarded as
"extra" Marines to be managed by the long-established divisions that
oversaw the administration of the men. Furthermore, when Women
Reservists were assigned to posts and stations, they reported to the
commanding officer of their unit, who was subordinate to the commanding
officer of the post, and who, in turn, was responsible to the Commandant
of the Marine Corps. The MCWR Director was a staff officer not in the
chain of command, and, in truth, she had nothing to "direct."
WRs parade at Camp Lejeune in 1944. Photo courtesy of Mary R. Rich
Henderson Hall women Marines presented a stage
production, "Manhattan Scene," in which they could once again don formal
civilian attire in 1945. From left are: Sgt Shirley Heyser; Sgt Margaret
Michalik; Sgt Myrtle Douglas; Cpl Emma Guidry; PFCAngeline Porfilio; Sgt
Vivian Coss; Cpl Bernice Peart; Sgt Mary Thompson; and Cpl Mary
Kerkhoff. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 13064