On Memorial Day and Veterans Day we take tribute to the Latina trailblazers like Sergant Eva Romero Jacques and PFC Carmen García Rosado, that served for their homeland, USA.
Prior to World War II, traditional Hispanic cultural values expected women to be homemakers, thus they rarely left the home to earn an income. As such, women were discouraged from joining the military. Only a small number of Hispanic women joined the military before World War II However, with the outbreak of World War II, cultural prohibitions began to change. With the creation of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), predecessor of the Women's Army Corps (WAC), and the U.S. Navy Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES), women could attend to certain administrative duties left open by the men who were reassigned to combat zones. While most women who served in the military joined the WAACs, a smaller number of women served in the Naval Women's Reserve (the WAVES).
One of the first Hispanic women to serve in the USAAF was Staff Sergeant Eva Romero Jacques. Romero Jacques, who spoke Spanish and English and had three years of college spent two years in the Pacific Theater, 1944 in New Guinea and 1945 in the Philippines, as an administrative aide. She survived a plane disaster when the craft in which she was on crashed in the jungles of New Guinea.
The Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) was established during World War II on May 15, 1942, "for the purpose of making available to the national defense the knowledge, skill, and special training of the women of the nation."[During this period, the Army was looking for bilingual Hispanic women to fill assignments in fields such as cryptology, communications and interpretation. In 1942, Contreras joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) and was sent to Fort Lee, Virginia for training. Contreras volunteered to be part of the 149th WAAC Post Headquarters Company the first to go overseas, setting sail from New York Harbor for Europe on January 1943.
The unit arrived in Northern Africa on January 27, 1943 and rendered overseas duties in Algiers, in General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s theatre headquarters. The women who served abroad were not treated like the regular Army servicemen. They did not receive overseas payment nor could they receive government life insurance. These women had no protection if they became ill, wounded or captured. If captured, the women were considered as "auxiliaries" serving with the Army rather than in it, and did not have the same protections under international law as the male soldiers. These were factors which the Army took into consideration when they decided to integrate the Women’s Corps into the regular Army On July 3, 1943, the WAC bill, which established the Women’s Army Corps as integral part of the Army of the United States, was signed into law (Public Law 78-110) becoming effective on September 1, 1943.
Contreras was promoted to the rank of Tech 4 (Technical Sergeant) which, in today's Army, would equal the rank of Sergeant (E-4). Her responsibilities included the transmission of encoded messages to the battlefield. After returning home, Contreras entered Valley Forge General Hospital on July 1945, for treatment of an eye infection which she had contracted in Algiers. There she met Theodore Bozak, a patient who would become her husband. Carmen Contreras-Bozak and Theodore Bozak had three children, two sons, Brian and Robert, and a daughter, Carmen.
In 1944, the Army recruited women in Puerto Rico for the Women's Army Corps (WAC). Over 1,000 applications were received for the unit, which was to be composed of only 200 women. After their basic training at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, the Puerto Rican WAC unit, Company 6, 2nd Battalion, 21st Regiment of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, a segregated Hispanic unit, was assigned to the New York Port of Embarkation to work in military offices that planned the shipment of troops around the world.
Among them was PFC Carmen García Rosado, who in 2006, authored and published a book titled "LAS WACS-Participacion de la Mujer Boricua en la Segunda Guerra Mundial" (The WACs-The participation of the Puerto Rican women in the Second World War), the first book to document the experiences of the first 200 Puerto Rican women who participated in said conflict. However, not all of the WAAC units were stationed in the mainland USA. In January 1943, the 149th WAAC Post Headquarters Company became the first WAAC unit to go overseas when they went to North Africa. Serving overseas was dangerous for women; if captured, WAACs, as "auxiliaries" serving with the Army rather than in it, did not have the same protections under international law as male soldiers.
One of the members of the 149th WAAC Post Headquarters Company was Tech4 Carmen Contreras-Bozak, who served in Algiers within General Dwight D. Eisenhower's theatre headquarters. Contreras joined the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in 1942 and was sent to Fort Lee, Virginia for training. Contreras volunteered to be part of the 149th WAAC Post Headquarters Company, thus becoming the first Hispanic to serve as an interpreter and in numerous administrative positions. The unit was the first WAAC unit to go overseas, setting sail from New York Harbor for Europe on January 1943. Contreras' unit arrived in Northern Africa on January 27, 1943, and rendered overseas duties in Algiers within General Dwight D. Eisenhower's theatre headquarters, dealing with nightly German air raids. Contreras remembers that the women who served abroad were not treated like the regular Army servicemen. They did not receive overseas payment nor could they receive government life insurance. They had no protection if they became ill, wounded or captured. She served until 1945 and earned the European-African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with 2 Battle Stars, World War II Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, Women's Army Corps Service Medal and the Army Good Conduct Medal.
Mercedes O. Cubria, born in Guantanamo, Cuba, became a United States Citizen in 1924. She joined the WAC's in 1943 and served in the U.S. Counter Intelligence gathering information against the enemy. She retired in 1973 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Other Hispanic servicewomen like Contreras and Cubria served either in the WAACs, WAVES or MCWR (Marine Corps Women's Reserve); among them Lieutenant Junior Grade Maria Rodriguez-Denton. The Navy assigned Rodriguez-Denton as a library assistant at the Cable and Censorship Office in New York City. It was Rodriguez-Denton who forwarded the news (through channels) to President Harry S. Truman that the war had ended.