It was 1943, and I felt strongly about the war. But at age 18, I was too young to be a U.S. WAC. So I did the next best thing: I joined the Canadian Women’s Army Corps.
We freshly minted CWACs marched to a multinational beat on a parade ground in Kitchener, Ontario: not just O Canada, but Over There, Tenting Tonight, It’s a Long Way to Tipperary and, yes, God Save the King.
In six weeks of basic training, we learned to march, salute, and climb into upper bunks and troop trucks. I became an expert at tying a military tie, shining buttons, and using a gas mask. I also learned such Canadianisms as “aboot” for about, “leftenant” for lieutenant, “petrol” for gas and “zed” for Z.
While I never made it beyond the rank of private, I got a plum assignment to the directorate of public relations OHMS—On His Majesty’s Service. Serving in Montreal and Ottawa, I wrote press releases and magazine articles about the CWACs and the men of the Canadian regiments, including some Americans who’d enlisted before the U.S. entered the war.
Traveling by train, lugging my kit bag and manual typewriter, I’d sleep in an upper berth while an officer took the lower one. An unforgettable assignment was Halifax, Nova Scotia, where I met a troop ship bearing badly wounded soldiers. Many were carried ashore by stretcher, and I can still see them trying to salute the officers and wave or wink at the female nurses, soldiers, and civilians.
In April 1945, after the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, I joined a thousand or more weeping Americans and Canadians for a memorial gathering at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa.
Less than a month later, we cried happy tears after news of victory in Europe came clacking loudly over the teletype. After the war, as a 20-year-old veteran and a resident of Yonkers, New York, I went to college on the GI Bill.