UNION — A woman who was among the first generation of American women to wear their country’s uniform recalled the at times humorous beginnings of their contribution to America’s victory in World War II and what it means to be the wife of an active duty member of the military during Monday’s Veterans Day Service.
Vivian Bradburn was the featured speaker during the service which was held at the War Memorial at the intersection of Main and Mountain streets. Bradburn is the widow Hay Fant Bradburn, a veteran of World War II and the Korean Conflict who spent more than 20 years in the U.S. Air Force. Like her husband, Bradburn is a veteran of World War II and was among the first women to enter the military after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
“Mrs. Bradburn was working in a cafe in Arkansas when the U.S. declared war on Japan,” Jantzen Childers, service emcee, said. “She joined the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) in 1942. this took her all over the country and eventually led to her meeting her husband, the late Hay Fant “Brad” Bradburn. They were married in 1948.”
“Two years after that, he was recalled into the Air Force during the Korean War,” he said. “Over the years they were stationed in Alaska, Washington, California, France and other areas. They returned to Union in 1968 after Mr. Bradburn retired.”
Bradburn spoke first about her fellow veterans and why all of them, even those who never saw combat but nevertheless contributed to their country’s defense are “all wool and a yard wide.”
“What an honor to be asked to say a few words to veterans because I am one, although I cannot put myself in the same class with the men who served, who risked their lives,” Bradburn said. “There’s an old expressed we used to use to describe something or someone of high caliber. We said they were ‘all wool and a yard wide,’ meaning the very best, and that’s the way I see veterans.
“Some never shouldered a gun except in basic training, and some never saw combat, but there wasn’t a man in battle who didn’t give credit to the men back at base who backed him up,” she said. “All veterans have contributed to America’s freedom, and I may be wrong but I believe freedom is more treasured by those who have had to sacrifice for it.”
Bradburn also recalled how she became among the first women of her generation to join the Women’s Army Corps or WACS.
“My own claim to being a veteran begins, like some of yours, when the Japanese plans attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941,” Bradburn said. “I don’t believed the Japanese had any idea what a hornets nest they stirred up when they attacked this country. It brought out a fight in us that we didn’t know we had. Men didn’t wait to be drafted, they signed by the thousands, and women tied their hair up in bandannas and went to work building airplanes, tanks and ammunition, and you know the rest of the story.”
While many women went into the defense plants to build the weapons of war, others like Bradburn soon found themselves in uniform, though not without several months of debate — a debate which Bradburn said preceded America’s entry into the war — within the government about whether or not women should be in the military.
“As early as the summer of 1941 there was talk in Washington about women as an auxiliary corps to the army, but it was mostly talk and no action,” Bradburn said. “Women in the army? Laughable!”
America’s entry into World War II and the need for Americans in uniform ended the debate, at least when it came to women wearing their country’s uniform. What that uniform would include, however, was the subject of conjecture, much of it silly according to Bradburn.
“In January 1942, barely a month after the president declared war on Japan, General George C. Marshall picked a lady from Texas named Oveta Culp Hobby, to be the director in charge of organizing a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps,” Bradburn said. “Rumor flew. The press and the public got into the act with more silliness than seriousness. Would women soldiers be allowed to wear makeup and nail polish? What kind of underwear would they wear?”
Bradburn would soon learn the answer to those questions, answers that were themselves humorous at times. In the meantime, however, the serious business of training women for military service got underway.
“Mrs. Hobby was sworn in in February 1942 and given the rank of colonel, and the first WACs began officer’s training the following May,” Bradburn said. “We had to have officers before we could have privates because otherwise they wouldn’t have known what to do.”
Bradburn said the basic training took place at an old cavalry post in Des Moines, Iowa, and she said she heard that when the first WACs arrived there for training the place still smelled of horses. She said she didn’t know whether that was true or not, but that by the time she enlisted and arrived there for training “it was late fall, and it was cold, rainy, snowy and muddy and downright miserable.”
The first thing Bradburn got was her uniform and other clothing provided by the army and it was there that she learned — with humorous results — how unprepared the military was for women soldiers.
“The first problem was getting us fitted out in uniforms,” Bradburn said. “The branch of the army responsible for clothing us couldn’t keep up. We had been told not to bring clothes from home, so the second day after our arrival we lined up at the supply room to get outfitted. They did try to furnish us with the right size uniform — everything else was from off the top of the box.
“My pajamas were a size 44, I could turn over in bed in them and they wouldn’t even move,” she said. “Our GI underwear was olive drab in color, old stretchy rayon and three sizes too big. If I wore the waistband at my waist, the crotch reached my knees. If I pulled the crotch up where it belonged, the waist reach just under my armpits.”
Army coats that had not seen the light of day since the end of World War I were also issued to Bradburn and her fellow WACS and this had an impact on their training.
“We were issued World War I overcoats that had been packed away in mothballs for years,” Bradburn said. “Again, whatever size was next in the box. We smelled like mothballs, the whole barracks smelled like mothballs.
“The first thing we learned was marching in formation, and we marched everywhere, to classes, to lectures, to the mess hall,” she said. “The tallest women were in front with the shorties bringing up the rear. Those short women had to lengthen their stride unnaturally just to keep in step and keep up, all the while struggling to keep those oversize coats from dragging the ground.”
Wearing clothing that was clearly not designed for them was not the only adjustment Bradburn and her fellow WACS had to make to army life, adjustments she said they gladly made in order to do their part to help win the war.
“Our barracks were standard army barracks with cots in a row and showers in a row, right away we gave up privacy,” Bradburn said. “Barracks were heated with coal-burning furnaces, so we marched back and forth under a cloud of black smoke and soot.
“I never heard a word of complaint,” she said. “Those women cheerfully washed the soot out of their hair, cleaned the mud off their shoes, barely with having time to write a letter home. By golly, we were soldiers and we were gonna help with the war.”
While they became soldiers, Bradburn said she and her fellow WAACS were different from the women she sees in the military today.
“I want to make it clear that we bore no resemblance to today’s women in the army,” Bradburn said. “When I have occasion to go to Ft. Jackson, I see women in camouflage coveralls with their pants legs shoved into heavy boots. We were women and we were expected to look and act like ladies. Many of our jobs were technical in nature, and we had no doubt of what we were contributing toward winning the war.”
Bradburn also spoke about what it means to be the spouse of an active duty member of the military.
“If you are wondering why an old female vet is up here telling you all this stuff, there’s more,” Bradburn said. “I spent twenty years as a military spouse, so the military has been a large part of my life. If you’re married to a member of the military you might as well sign up and take the oath, because you are in it lock, stock and barrel.
“You are the backup,” she said. “When things get too sticky on the flight line, and your man is too out-ranked to talk back, you’re his sounding board, and you’d better be adaptable.”
The mother of two children, Bradburn recalled the sacrifies she and her children made in support of her husband/their father’s service to their country.
“You pack up and move more times than you can count,” Bradburn said. “You can’t remember how many rooms you’ve painted in how many houses. Your kids seldom finish one grade at one school.”
She also recalled, the benefits of being a military family.
“We gathered no moss, but we gathered a lot of friends from a lot of places,” Bradburn said. “We made friends fast, not caring anything about their family background. We took each other at face value, and we were never sorry.”
Editor Charles Warner can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 14, or by email at email@example.com.