By Jeremy P. Ämick
While World War II continued to unfold during the early 1940s, a young woman from the state of California believed there might be some means through which she could support the war effort, giving something back to a nation desperately in need of volunteers.
In the spring of 1945, Emma Verslues walked into her local Navy recruiting station with hopes of enlisting, but instead received the admonishment, “You’re too young and heavy.”
The aspiring recruit was not discouraged and took the advice of the Navy recruiter, visiting the Army recruiting office where she found the opportunity for which she was searching—enlistment in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC).
The predessor to the WAC—the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC)—possessed no military status and was intended “for the purpose of making available to the national defense the knowledge, skill, and special training of the women of the nation,” read Executive Order 9163, signed by President Franklin Roosevelt in May 1942.
But on July 3, 1943, the president signed into law the WAC bill, which then granted military status to the women in the organization.
“A few days after I enlisted, they put a group of us on a bus and sent us to Fort Des Moines, Iowa,” said Verslues, 90, Jefferson City. (Ft. Des Moines was selected as the first training site for the newly established corps.)
The book “United States Army in World War II Special Studies: The Women’s Army Corps,” explains that the WAC basic training lasted approximately four weeks and “followed quite closely the first four weeks of the men’s basic course,” after which, the new enlistees would be transferred to an assignment in the field or attend advanced training.
Finishing her basic training in early summer 1945, during which, Verslues joked, the physical activity “took the weight off of me,” she remained at Fort Des Moines to attend two advanced trainings—first, clerk training that introduced her to the fundamentals of typing and filekeeping, and then moving on to basic medical training.
“The medical classes taught us how to do things like take a temperature and gives shots,” Verslues said. “We would practice giving shots using a lemon and I remember saying to myself, ‘I hope I never have to do this on a real person,’”
By the end of summer, Verslues recalls that she and her fellow WACs eagerly awaited the receipt of orders for their first duty assignments.
“I made a lot of good friends while I was there, but we were all separated when our orders came,” she said. “I was sent to Walter Reed (Army Medical Center) in Washington, D.C.”
The young WAC spent a short time at Walter Reed, and later transferred to Ft. Meyer, Va., working as an assistant to the hospital’s nurses and helped bathe, feed, and occasionally write letters for servicemembers receiving treatment, many of whom were blinded or missing limbs because of their service in overseas combat zones.
“I really enjoyed taking care of people even though it could be a real tear-jerker at times,” she said. “But helping those boys that were hurt get better … there was just nothing better than that.”
While living in Virginia, Verslues was married and gave birth to her first son, which inspired her to leave the WACs in January 1947 so that she could focus on her growing family. Her husband, who was serving in the Army, was discharged in the late 1940s and the couple moved to Columbia, Mo.
Years later, after giving birth to her second son, Verslues attended nursing school at Boone County Hospital, earning her “cap, pin and uniform” in the early 1950s. However, she later moved to Jefferson City, Mo., after she and her husband separated, and began working for Von Hoffman Press, from where she retired in the mid-1980s.
For the last several years, the Army veteran has embraced her hard-earned retirement and affirms, while pointing to the American flag proudly displayed on her front porch, that her country and the miltary are two inspirations for which her devotion has never wavered.
“I love this country because it has done so much for me; I can go to sleep at night without worrying about where my next piece of bread is coming from.”
With a tear, she added, “And if I were able to turn back the hands of time, I would go back in the service because not only did I make some great friends, those were some of the most memorable times of my life.”
Jeremy P. Ämick is a military historian and author of “Cole County, Missouri at War: 1861-1975.”