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Women in the Military Rag Dolls (MO 1945.47.13-16)
Millions of young Americans served in America’s military during World War II. With FDR’s support their ranks included 350,000 women, who served as nurses and in special service branches established throughout the military.
In May 1941, Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts proposed a bill to establish the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corp (WAAC, later the WAC). The bill was passed a year later and the first enlisted auxiliaries arrived for training at Fort Des Moines in July 1942.
In the same month, the U.S. Navy established the Naval Reserve “Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service” (WAVES). Later in 1942, the U.S. Coast Guard launched their Women’s Reserve, the SPARs (the group’s title was taken from the Coast Guard motto “Semper Paratus”—“Always Ready”). In February 1943, the U.S. Marine Corps created the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve.
These four dolls, made in 1944 by Mrs. W.W. McGee of Fitzgerald, Florida, represent different branches of the U.S. military and commemorate the service of American women in the Army, Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corps during the war. Mrs. McGee sent these dolls to President Roosevelt as a gift.
Elliott Roosevelt’s Army Air Force Service Dress Uniform
All four of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s sons served in America’s armed forces during World War II.
Elliott was an Army Air Corps reconnaissance pilot in the North Atlantic and Europe. He eventually achieved the rank of brigadier general. Franklin Jr. and John both entered the U.S. Navy. John rose to the rank of lieutenant commander. Franklin Jr. became a full commander and was awarded a Purple Heart and Silver Star. James chose combat duty with the Marines and received the Navy Cross and the Silver Star.
Elliott Roosevelt was the first Roosevelt son to enter the military. FDR was very proud of his son and visited him in training camp. Elliott later wrote that when FDR learned he had enlisted, he saluted him with a heartfelt toast: “To Elliott. He’s the first of the family to think seriously enough, and soberly enough, about the threat to America to join his country’s armed forces. We’re all very proud of him. I’m the proudest.” (As He Saw It, Elliott Roosevelt).
This is Elliott Roosevelt’s service dress uniform from when he was a captain in the Army Air Corps. The uniform consists of a black wool, fully lined, single-breasted jacket with double pockets on each breast and brass buttons, each with a U.S. seal. A maker’s tag on the left pocket reads: “The Lilley-Ames Co. of Columbus, Ohio.” Handwritten in ink on the tag is “Capt. Elliott Roosevelt”. Each sleeve has blue and gold bands at the ends. Also included are navy blue pants with royal blue and orange stripes running down each leg.
Armed Forces day is May 21. To learn more about this day, visit www.defense.gov/afd
November 12, 1942
“LONDONDERRY, Northern Ireland—The flight to Ireland yesterday morning was smooth and uneventful, but there was just enough mist to prevent our seeing a great deal below us. We arrived in time to lunch with the Governor General, His Grace, the Duke of Abercorn and the Duchess of Abercorn. We then hurried on to visit a hospital in Belfast and the American Red Cross headquarters. They were so afraid that the weather might prevent our flying to Londonderry that they hurried us as much as they could. I missed seeing a number of the wards in the hospital, which I regretted, because any change, I think, is diverting to people who are in bed and seeing someone who has recently come from the United States, is naturally a great excitement to any of the American boys.
This particular hospital is undoubtedly efficiently run, and meets the needs of the Forces, but I cannot say that it seemed to me a particularly cheerful spot, and I think the nurses must do most of the bringing of sunshine into those wards for they tell me that there has been very little good weather for months past…
…Today is Armistice Day. When I think of the rejoicing which we all felt on this date in 1918, I cannot help having a sense of futility. There is just one thing for which I pray on this day—that as a nation we will not fool ourselves again into believing that which is pleasant but will accept reality and grasp the fact that we are part of a world which cannot be divided and treated in sections.”
October 4, 1945
“NEW YORK, Wednesday—For a long time I have wanted to draw attention to the remarkable contribution made by the trained nurses of the United States in this war. Just lately I came across an article that gives some figures and facts which I think should reach as many people as possible. Over 100,000 of the 242,500 active professional nurses volunteered and were certified for the Army and Navy nursing service. There has been a larger number of war service volunteers from the nursing profession than from any other profession. This is not strange, of course, since nursing is naturally the field where trained women would be called upon to a greater extent than from any other field.
I think we should not forget, however, that when this large percentage of our trained nursing force was taken out of civilian life, the burden borne by those left at their usual occupations was increased by almost 50 percent.
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Army and Navy nurses are still on duty in every branch of the service. As of June 30, 1945, 65,216 were still on duty with the services. It is interesting to note the sources from which these nurses were drawn—64 percent of them came from institutions and hospitals, and that is why there has been the great need for volunteers in those same institutions at home during the war. Seventeen percent came from private duty, and anyone who has been forced to have a private nurse in the last few years can readily believe that and perhaps wonder why the percentage is not higher! Five percent came from Public Health; three percent from the comparatively new field of industrial nursing, and the remainder from scattered sources.
Awards and citations have already been bestowed on 964 Army and Navy nurses. I hope that some general recognition can be given to the nurses who served in the war, and that more of those whose jobs were hard and grinding, if not particularly spectacular, will receive some special recognition. For instance, I think of the nurses who moved into the concentration camps of Europe to care for the poor creatures who had spent such long and horrible days under very bad conditions. The working and living conditions must have been horrible for the nurses as well.”
June 18, 1945
“NEW YORK, Sunday—For our future security, perhaps the first and most important thing we should think of is our obligation to see that every man able to work has a job, that every American family has a decent level of subsistence, and that every child has a chance to grow up without the physical and mental handicaps which arise out of bad housing, bad health and poor education and recreational conditions.
Our men have found, while fighting the war, that this country is the best country in the world in which to live. Yet during the depression years there were many people, even youngsters, to whom that would have seemed an impossible statement. We know that the things we want can only be secured if the other nations of the world have a rising standard of living and continuous desires which make the flow of trade more or less equal throughout the world.
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A nation with a high standard of living is a nation with a high national income. This will enable us to spend all we need on our defense without hardship to our people. It will enable us to provide a navy which our experts will consider adequate for protection and which shall only be reduced as armaments throughout the world are reduced; an air force which shall also meet the requirements of our experts and which shall be reduced only as the rest of the world reduces its military equipment proportionately; and a research group that will at all times be abreast of every modern invention, so that no nation in the world shall be ahead of us in the knowledge essential to the winning or to the prevention of future wars.
If we do decide that compulsory military training is essential until our peace organization is functioning and until the various parts of the world which have been unsettled for years past are on a more satisfactory economic and political basis, then we must be very careful how we choose and allocate our young people to their various tasks. In addition, we must repay them—on their release from military service—by giving them training in their chosen fields which will make it possible to accelerate their entrance into productive life as civilians.”
May 30, 1938
“HYDE PARK, Sunday—…Tomorrow, Monday, May 30th, is Decoration Day and long processions wending their way to the various churchyards to hold ceremonies decorating the graves of those men who have made the supreme sacrifice in past wars will remind us of those who have died for this country.
Only a little over 20 years have passed since the World War and yet, everywhere people are talking of the imminence of the next world war. Strange it is that we accept so placidly this constant recurrence of waste which plunges us into years of hardship and difficult reconstruction.
When Miss Margaret Bonfield lunched with me the other day, I could not help wondering how a woman, who has given so much of her life to constructive work for the betterment of human beings, can continue to be hopeful and patient in the face of the apparent stupidity which we show in leading our lives.
I wish that we could use Decoration Day throughout this country, not only as a patriotic celebration to honor the deeds of the past, but as a day on which we remind our young people of their obligation to the future. On them lies the necessity to change the thinking of the future so that we will prevent graves all over the world, which on one day or another, are visited first by sorrowing relatives, and later by patriotic youngsters and their elders who realize that the people under the flag-bedecked gravestones gave all they had to give for their country and gained little for it and the world.
All these young lives might have served their country much more constructively had they been allowed to live out their days in peace. It is not a question of being unwilling to die for your country. It is far more the need for the type of imagination which will visualize the possibility of living so that the country will profit by the lives of each one of its citizens. When they die, on their tombstones should be written: “John James lived from 1920-1980 and accomplished thus and so,” instead of “Here lies John James who died at the age of 20 in the service of his country in the battle of x x x.”
Memorial Day should never be given up, but as the years go by we hope that people will be honored for their lives and not for their deaths.”
February 1, 1945
“WASHINGTON, Wednesday—I was very much impressed last night, as I went from birthday ball to birthday ball, by the number of men in uniform who were taking part in these celebrations. Of course, it is obvious that men who are free to do anything of this kind and who are in Washington are the men who are busy all day in various offices.
Still, I think it also shows that the appeal of a home front battle is strong for the man who has to fight our battles overseas. Perhaps if you are fighting for your country in faraway places, when you come home you are more conscious that you want your country to be the best possible place to live in, both for yourself and your children. This, I hope, augurs more responsible citizenship from our returned service men.
This morning I went out to Walter Reed hospital to one of the forums which are going on there from day to day. We were a panel of women—Miss Freda Miller, head of the Women’s Bureau in the Department of Labor; Miss Mary Switzer, executive assistant to Paul V. McNutt in the War Manpower Commission; and Miss Malvina Lindsay, columnist of the Washington Post. I was to act as discussion leader and moderator, though since we were not debating with each other there was very little to moderate. The subject was “Women in the Postwar World.” You can well imagine that we covered a great deal of territory, since women enter into every phase of modern life!”