The Women's Army Corps Detachment
The two hundred women who formed the Women’s Army Corps Detachment at Camp Hale, Colorado were the reason for this research and website. Their presence at and contributions to Camp Hale had largely been lost from the historical record. Military personnel, veteran, historians, and librarians all lacked information about the women stationed there.
The question arises as to how a detachment could be forgotten: what are the reasons for this historical amnesia. Several explanations can be offered. The first ties to the 10th Mountain Division. The Camp was built and created for training elite mountain troops, so thus the natural focus of the military and the media was their activities. They also sustained nearly a 25% casualty rate in action in Italy; their accomplishments and heroism was remarkable and deserves recognition. Another reason for the absence of women in the historical record is that of sheer numbers. There were thousands of men in the 10th Mountain Division and only two hundred WACS stationed at Camp Hale. For that reason they have been eclipsed by their male colleagues. Still the reality was that some men of the 10th Mountain Division associated and worked with the WACs stationed there, some soldiers dated them, and marriages even took place after the war. The omission of women from the history of Camp Hale is particularly interesting since the activities of the WAC were chronicled in the camp publication, THE SKI-ZETTE, and the Leadville Herald Democrat printed news reports of their arrival and subsequent actions.
Lack of information was not a reason for the historical neglect but other factors offer partial explanations. The Women’s Army Corps had been created to perform a wide variety of non-combat functions within the Army. The decision to create the WAC produced controversy and resentment within the military, primarily among the ranks of enlisted and draftees. The presence of WACs reminded soldiers that more of them could be sent overseas for service at the front lines. There was also a traditional attitude within the military that defined the meaningful wartime contributions as those of men on the battlefield. This emphasis trivialized and relegated the contributions of women to the periphery. Even though the majority of men who served never experienced combat, their contributions were hailed because they could have fought. While wartime necessity broke down barriers for women’s participation in a variety of non-traditional occupations, women’s service in the military posed the greatest challenge or threat to established gender norms. Sex-based stereotyping and presumptions about women’s abilities and capabilities created a framework for evaluation that cast doubt on the lasting value of women’s contributions. Thus historical neglect and historical denial may have both contributed to the loss of information about the WAC Detachment of Camp Hale.
The women interviewed for this project were aware that their contributions had been eclipsed or ignored in the history of Camp Hale. Nevertheless, they were proud of their work and their role in the war effort. They came from all over the country and their decisions to enlist had been personal. Some saw it as an opportunity to travel and see the world beyond their hometowns; others looked to independence from families or a sense of adventure. Most WACs cited patriotism, the opportunity to serve their country and help the war effort as their primary motivations. As a Camp Hale WAC veteran stated, “We did it for our country, the war, and out own self respect.” They also were certain that if the necessity had ever again presented itself, they would have done it again.
The Camp Hale WAC veterans held tremendous respect for the 10th Mountain Division and their valiant achievements in Italy. They however remain secure in the value of their unsung role at Camp Hale. They recognize their place in history. During the war they realized that there were many in the military and civilian world that remained skeptical and even hostile toward the presence of women in the military. Because of this, they knew they had to prove themselves capable of military service. They worked hard, maintained the highest standards, and performed capably. The eyes of the nation were upon them, and they recognized and accepted their role as pioneers in the armed forces.
Most members of the Camp Hale WAC Detachment left the service when the war ended. They look back on their experience and acknowledge that because they and other WACs succeeded, they secured a permanent place for women in the military. All the women interviewed expressed sincere gratitude that they will be restored to the history of Camp Hale.