War Story 1944
Prologue: Not everything in war is about combat.
by S Martha Montevallo ©2003
At 35 mph we had plenty of time to get acquainted. Although he had seen WACs around the post he had never met one and was curious about me. He was the required commissioned officer on this mission; a second lieutenant who would rather have been with his wife and baby than provide escort to a bunch of young ladies to dance with basic training draftees.
The guard at the gate looked studiously at my off-post trip ticket and peered into the cab. He and the lieutenant exchanged salutes and we were on our way. As we drove the twenty or so miles to Abilene he quizzed me.
“Corporal, why did you join the WAC?”
Aha! Here was an opportunity to offset the questionable reputation that women in service had in some places. Rumors started by the Germans, according to our leaders. After a year and a half of active duty I remained almost the youngest, surely the most naïve, innocent, and just plain dumb in my unit. I was very proud to be in the Women’s Army Corps and would never do anything to disgrace the uniform. I thought it would be just as well if he learned that the WAC included even unsophisticated Southern girls also.
Martha in 1944.
“I couldn’t help it, Sir. As soon as I learned that there was going to be a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps I said, ‘That’s what I’m going to do!’ but had to wait to be twenty-one, a little over a year.”
“How did your parents feel about it?”
I laughed. “They didn’t have much to say. My father is a retread in Europe now. He’s a battalion commander in the Military Railway Service. He was in the Army in WWI, and my mother was an Army Nurse in WWI at a base hospital in France. What could they say?”
He laughed too. “Probably not much. How did your boyfriend feel about it?”
“He was a flying gadget and was killed in a training accident.”
He turned and really looked at me. Then he said, “I’m so sorry.”
After a few moments he asked, “You had to wait over a year? What did you do?”
“Summer school at Berea College in Kentucky. I’d already had a year and a summer at the University of Louisville. Then a year at Alabama College, so now I have about two and a half years of college. What about you, Sir? I suppose you went to college, too.”
“Oh, yes,” he said and sighed, “I was an ROTC cadet and as soon as I graduated my gold bars came with orders to report to Fort Riley. We got married and our honeymoon was coming here. Did I tell you we have a baby? He’s just three months old. That’s why I really didn’t want to come on this detail.”
Knowing nothing about babies or marriage or much of life at all, I said, “Yeah, it must be tough, Sir.”
He looked out the window a while, probably thinking about his wife and baby. I just drove on, thinking about him with me in the deuce and a half instead of being with his family. We were congenial, about the same age, having somewhat similar amounts of formal education. I was “Corporal” and he was “Sir.” In other circumstances it would have been fraternization.
“Why are you a truck driver when you could have been working in an office? You don’t look like the truck driver type.”
“It’s exactly what I wanted. I was afraid that when they saw my two years of college I wouldn’t get Motor Transport School. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had. Sometimes I get to chauffeur with a staff car and that’s good, too, but driving trucks is better.”
Martha Montevallo enjoying her job 1944.
He laughed. “You must have been a tomboy.”
I laughed. “Still am.”
The truck was loud and not all that comfortable. The pace was slow. Between getting off post and driving the national speed limit it took almost an hour to get to Abilene. At the USO the lieutenant reported to the director. About twenty girls in modest pastel formals got into the back of the truck for the ride to Fort Riley’s Republican Flats. They were giggling and giddy as they climbed into the truck holding up their dresses, hanging onto their little evening purses, arranging themselves on the benches along the sides of the truck bed.
The lieutenant and I had little to say for a while. I was thinking about the contrast between the girls in the back of the truck and me. Two years before I had gone to dances in hangars on Army Air Corps bases. Now I felt so superior to them in their filmy frocks.
“Do you miss being a civilian and wearing pretty clothes?”
“No, Sir. I feel better dressed than anybody else and wear my uniform on furlough even with my family. I like it.”
“What are you going to do after the war,” he asked, “and do you have a boyfriend now?”
“I haven’t thought that far ahead. There is a first lieutenant I’ve known for about six years. We write and get to see each other once in a while. My family moved to his home town the summer before I started high school and he left for college. He’s an electrical engineer in Burma now, due back sometime soon and we’ll see each other then. Probably have to get some kind of special pass to date an officer, even one I’ve known since long before the war.”
“Yes, that could be difficult. You ought to marry him.” He gave me a blinding smile, “I recommend it.”
Back on post at the Service Club the lieutenant assisted the young ladies to dismount, escorted them into the club, turned them over to the Service Club Director, a woman who would be, in effect, their chaperone, and left.
After parking the truck I went into the Service Club to dance. I was already in Class A uniform for the hauling as well as the dancing. For two hours I could see the filmy pastel formals whirling from partner to partner among the khaki soldiers who were overjoyed at their presence and dismayed that there weren’t more of them.
Martha behind the wheel.
At ten the lieutenant reappeared, I brought the truck around, and we started to load our passengers in the chilly evening. One of the girls had a cold and the lieutenant gallantly gave up his seat in the cab of the truck and rode in the back with the rest of the girls.
It was hard going for me. I’d felt comfortable with the lieutenant even though he was an officer. I had so little in common with those girls, or thought I did, that it was a chore keeping a conversation going with my passenger who didn’t feel at all well and perhaps didn’t even want to converse.
When we reached Abilene she directed me to her house and the lieutenant escorted her to the door and turned her over to her father. Meanwhile another girl had got into the cab to direct me to her house. We repeated that procedure until all the girls had been returned to their homes and families.
As each girl joined me in the cab of the truck she thanked me effusively for driving, for being in the Army, for giving up all I had given up, for being so marvelous, so brave, for doing all I was to win the war…….I soon realized that the lieutenant had spent the return trip in the back of the truck with his charges extolling my virtues.
When he had dispatched the last young lady and got into the cab I was laughing and asked, “What in heaven’s name did you tell those girls? They were praising me, telling me how wonderful I am. You must have put them up to it.”
He grinned and said, “I only told them what you told me. I thought they ought to know that there is a bigger contribution to the war effort than dancing.”
We laughed together as comrades and then were quiet on the way back. He snoozed some. Reveille comes at the same time each morning. When I dropped him off just before midnight I said, “Thank you, Sir.”
“Good night, Corporal.”
I took the truck to the motor pool and walked to the barracks. It had been a good evening doing something different from delivering rations to thirty mess halls, my regular assignment.
Epilogue: Yes, this really happened and yes, I was that little goody-two-shoes.
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