Anna Mac Clarke, World War II and the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps
Answering the Call to Arms
World War II and the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps
By John M. Trowbridge
©1997, John M. Trowbridge
War came to the United States on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. It would be another ten months before Anna Mac would become a member of the newly organized Women's Army Auxiliary Corps or WAACs as they were called. Early in 1942 Anna Mac received training from the U.S. Army Fifth Service Command's Signal Corps School which was located in Cincinnati.
On October 3,1942, Anna answered the call of Mary McLeod Bethune for "One Black WAAC" and joined the All-Volunteer Women's Army Auxiliary Corps in Cincinnati Ohio. Mary McLeod Bethune, who had delivered the commencement address at Clarke's graduation from Kentucky State College, had been an influence on her life once again. Mrs. Bethune was a founding member of the National Council of Negro Women and was considered the surrogate mother of the black WAACs. She was a member of the National Civilian Advisory Committee, which met regularly to advise the director of the WAAC and her staff. Mrs. Bethune was also instrumental in assisting with the selection of officer candidates for the WAAC OCS Program. L-501251 was the service number the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps assigned to Anna M. Clarke. Saying good-bye to friends and family, she took the train west. Anna Mac went into the auxiliary training program at the First Women's Army Auxiliary Corps Training Center at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. Fort Des Moines would become the largest WAAC training center for blacks, with some 56,000 trained at the post during the war. The typical training day for Anna during her basic training started at five-thirty in order to be neatly dressed for six o'clock reveille. After making beds, cleaning, and picking up cigarette butts in the area, the women matched to breakfast and then began classes, which lasted until five in the afternoon, with a break for lunch. After supper there was a required study hour and then a session devoted to the washing and pressing of uniforms and the shining of shoes. The WAAC Basic and Officer Candidate course were identical and as demanding as corresponding courses for men, except for the omission of combat subjects. Women studied military sanitation and first aid, military customs and courtesy, map reading, defense against chemical attack, defense against air attack, interior guard, company administration, supply, and mess management. The hygiene course was designed by the local hospital personnel to apply to women's hygiene. For all the regimentation and discipline, Anna loved this military life and she felt she had found her career. She completed her four-week Basic Training course just prior to Christmas 1942.
During this time the newly organized WAAC was in desperate need of officers both black and white. Anna with her educational and athletic background was ideally suited to enter into the WAAC Officer Candidate School (OCS). On November 30, 1942, the OCS program at Fort Des Moines was desegregated. In mid-December 1942, Anna Mac became a candidate in the 15th Officer Class, WAAC OCS Program. One of three blacks in her class, she would be the only one to finish the course. Her class was the second to be desegregated and black and white OCS Candidates were listed alphabetically by last name. The Officer Candidate School at Fort Des Moines lasted eight weeks.
Towards the end of Anna's OCS training, Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, the president's wife, made her first visit to the fort, on Saturday, February 14, 1943. Major Hobby, director of the WAAC, accompanied Mrs. Roosevelt. During her inspection tour Mrs. Roosevelt and her party visited the main mess hall. Anna Mac and her OCS class were eating at the time and Mrs. Roosevelt was introduced to and had her photograph taken with Anna Mac.
On February 16, 1943, WAAC OCS Class 15 graduated, Third Officer Ann M. Clark was its only black member. Third Officer Clark's first assignment was to Company 8 at Fort Des Moines, under the command of Captain Charity Adams. Although Anna's class was desegregated, the post itself remained segregated to Anna and her fellow black officers. Life at Fort Des Moines .offered little or no social life for the black officers. Although they lived among the post's aristocracy on Officer's Row in homes around the parade grounds, they were socially apart from the rest of the residents of the community; they formed black enclaves which were geographically a part of the group yet socially isolated from it. The Officers Club was off-limits to black officers as was the swimming pool, except for one hour on Friday evenings. Immediately after the blacks used the pool, the water was cleansed and purified.
Due in part to the social isolation at Fort Des Moines, Anna threw herself into her duties as the Regimental Supply Officer with her usual zeal. She enjoyed the military, the training opportunities, and the chance to travel and see new places. It was an exciting and dangerous time for her and the world. In the military the concept nor the reality of fairness was operative, but neither was American society's treatment of its black fair, Anna felt the military offered her a better deal than society offered in the civilian sector. She had decided to make the military her career.
During the latter part of February 1943, Anna was reassigned to the Fourth Company, Third Regiment, as a Platoon Leader. Third Officer Ann M. Clarke would go down in history as the first black WAAC assigned to command an all-white unit.
On May 22, 1943, when First Officer Sara E. Murphy and Third Officer Anna Clarke were in command of 144 enlisted WAACs, they were the first black unit assigned to the Fifth Service Command at Camp Atterbury, Indiana. The women were welcomed by the post commander, the company commander of the white WAAC headquarters company, other officers, and enlisted personnel. They found their barracks ready to receive them, compliments of one of the white WAAC officers and a detail of enlisted women. The mission of the black unit was in support of Wakeman General Hospital located on the post. Anna would only spend one month with the unit in Indiana. This particular unit would later be designated as the Twenty-first WAC Hospital Company and continue their work at Camp Atterbury. They would go on to be commended for their competence and enthusiasm and, in recognition of its work, the unit would be awarded the Commander's Plaque for outstanding service.
In June 1943, Anna proceeded to WAAC headquarters in Washington, D.C. where she served in the classification and assignment department. The first of August, she entered the Adjutant General's School at Camp Meade, Maryland. Following the completion of training she was once again on the move, this time a stopover in Chicago, Illinois, to assist in black WAAC recruiting efforts with fellow Kentuckian, Mary A. Bordeaux. On July 16, 1943, Third Officer Ann Clarke was promoted to Second Officer.
On August 4, 1943, Anna's hometown friend and high school classmate Lucy B. Laurie joined the WAAC in Cincinnati Ohio. Lucy would serve in the WAC with the 9th WAC Hospital Company Headquarters, as a Teletype Operator. She attained the rank of Sergeant before being honorably discharged at the end of the war.
September 1, 1943, found Anna back at Fort Des Moines. On this date the WAAC was converted to the Women's Army Corps (WAC) as part of the Regular Army. Anna participated in ceremonies where she was appointed a First Lieutenant in the Women's Army Corps. During this time she joined other black WAC officers in their fight to stop the army in the establishment of an all-black regiment at Fort Des Moines. The officers felt that this plan to place all blacks on post under the command of a sort of South African-style black "homeland" ran counter to the very things the United States was fighting for in the war. The officers finally convinced the headquarters to rescind the reorganization plan before it was implemented.
January 1944, found Anna at Chico, California, organizing and preparing an all black WAC unit to be placed at an Army Air Field. During their short stay at the Army Air Corps Field in Chico, the WACs were separated from the male area by a highway which ran through the base. Lawrenceburg native Chester Gill Jr. was stationed at the base when he learned that Anna Mac was in command of the WACs. He made the trek to the WAC area and upon seeing Anna Mac marched up to her, saluted, and asked if it was okay for enlisted men to date female officers. She told him no, whereby he saluted, did an about face, and left her standing there.
Douglas Army Air Field, located on the Mexican border in eastern Arizona, was the advanced flying training school where aviation cadets received their pilot wings and commissions as second lieutenants or appointments as flight officers in the Army Air Force. The base came under the command of Army Air Forces Western Flying Training Command, headquarters at Santa Ana, California. It was one of four Army Air Fields in the United States to have both African-American soldiers and WACs, and was the second air field to receive black WACs.
Anna led WAC Unit Section D, the first cadre of WACs onto the base, on February 7,1944. The women were rapidly assigned to jobs formerly handled by men, from aircraft maintenance on the flight line to clerical and stenographic work in the headquarters offices. A number of them were assigned to laboratory work in the Post Hospital; one was a photographer for the Public Relations Office. Col. Harvey F. Dyer, the Base Commander, and his staff praised the work of these women and asked that additional black WACs be brought to the Air Field. Additionally, the WAC company at Douglas Army Air Field, according to the assessments of the Inspector General's observers, rendered commendable service, and in some cases went beyond the call of duty.
Soon after the arrival of the WACs at Douglas, Lieutenant Clarke was approached by black servicemen from Mississippi Louisiana, and other southern states who advised the women not to attend the post theater because a corner of the building had been "reserved for Negroes". Anna, accompanied by several of the women, attended the theater but refused to set in the segregated section although she was told that the women, as well as the men, must adhere to the policy of segregation. Making protests first to the theater management and then to her immediate supervisor, Anna Mac finally reached the Commanding Officer of the base, Colonel Harvey E. Dyer, who issued the following order on February 21, 1944, to all base officers:
TO: All Officers
Douglas Army Air Field, Douglas Arizona
- As all of you know, a colored WAC Detachment has been assigned to this station. The officers in this detachment are commissioned officers in the Army of the United States, the same as most of the rest of us. All of the colored enlisted women are enlisted in the Army of the United States. The colored officers are entitled to all the courtesies and privileges extended to white officers and the colored enlisted women are entitled to all of the courtesies and privileges extended to white enlisted men and women.
- The only duty which will be performed by the colored WAC officers will be directly in connection with administration of the colored WAC Detachment. The situation in connection with the colored enlisted WACs is entirely different. The enlisted members of the colored WAC Detachment will be employed in any department on this post for which they are properly qualified and classified. You officers in charge of departments are enjoined to educate properly all enlisted and civilian personnel in your respective departments to a accept any colored WACs assigned as you would any white enlisted man or enlisted woman in the Army of the United States. Every consideration, respect, courtesy and toleration will be afforded every colored WAC. No discrimination will be condoned.
- It must be appreciated by all of us that these colored WACs are citizens of the United States, imbued with a spirit of patriotism which prompted them to enlist in the Women's Army Corps as their contribution toward the war effort. They are comparatively well educated, of good moral character and possess high ideals. They are proud to serve their country, these great United States of America, in the capacity of women soldiers. They deserve our greatest respect.
- I know that all officers of the command will lend their hearty support to this matter, as they have on all other occasions. Your cooperation will be appreciated.
HARVEY E DYER
So ended segregation and discrimination at Douglas Army Air Field. The story of Anna's fight at Douglas would appear in papers around the country and would add fuel to the fire of desegregation and ending discrimination in the military.
The February 1944 edition of the Kentucky State College newspaper, The Thorobred stated that Anne Clarke "is really doing all right in the WAC. She moved up to 1st lieutenant fast and now we hear she's preparing for a captaincy." Anna would not be in command of her unit for long before she became ill. In mid-March 1944, Anna was admitted to the post hospital at Douglas, complaining of pains in her side. She was diagnosed with appendicitis, and to further complicate things it was ruptured and gangrene had started to set in. An appendectomy was performed and initially it looked as though she would make a full recovery. However, the poison of the gangrene had entered her body and Anna Mac died on April 19,1944.
Her body was transported to Bisbee, Arizona, and then sent by rail back home to Lawrenceburg for burial.