WINGING IT — Women’s Army Corps members pose in front of a military aircraft. They are, from left, Lt. Beatrice M. Hutton of Elizabeth, N.J.; Pvt. Famitta Wilson of San Francisco, Calif.; Pvt. Mary P. McGuire (later Doyle) of Altoona, PA; Pvt. Sue Selepes of Bridgeport, N.Y.; and Pvt. Vera Coelho of Bristol, R.I. Mary McGuire is wearing her engagement ring, and a bracelet sent by her fiance from his base in the Philippines. The WACs are standing in front of a P-39 Airacobra during a visit to the Niagara Falls plant of the Bell Aircraft Corporation in August 1944. (Photo courtesy Jane Doyle and Rome Historical Society)

WACs served at Rome Army Depot in WWII

Published Sep 10, 2017 at 9:00am

About 150,000 women served in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) during World War II, including many at the former Griffiss Air Force Base -- then known as the Rome Army Depot.

Among them was the late Mary P. McGuire Doyle, of Altoona, Penn. Doyle passed away in 2009, at the age of 93, and her family recently donated her old WAC photos to the Rome Historical Society.

The Women’s Army Corps (WAC) was created in 1942 as the women’s branch of the U.S. Army. The WAC was disbanded in 1978, and its units were integrated with male units.

Doyle joined the WACs shortly after Pearl Harbor was attacked, according to her daughter, Jane Doyle, of Altoona, Penn.

Jane Doyle said her mother was set to travel to Butte, Montana, to become engaged over Christmas 1941 to her fiancée Joseph P. Doyle (also from Altoona but working in Butte) when Pearl Harbor was attacked on Dec. 7, 1941. Within a week Joseph Doyle was shipped to Camp Roberts in California for deployment to the Philippines. He mailed the engagement ring to his girlfriend before leaving Butte.

Her mother was employed by the city of Altoona, but “she felt she wanted to try to do something more,” Jane Doyle said. So she signed up for the WACs, did her basic training at Fort Ogelthorpe in Georgia, and “was assigned to Rome Army Depot … as an Army recruiter.” She and other members of the recruiting team travelled to Syracuse, New York City and elsewhere.

“Our mother’s story is very indicative of the sacrifices people made at that time,” Doyle said. Although engaged to be married, Doyle’s father left for the Philippines, and her mother “wanted to do something for the effort as well.”

Her parents’ story is “a microcosm” of some of the many stories of “unselfish and dedicated commitment to this country,” during the war, Jane Doyle said.

Doyle’s father rose to the rank of lieutenant, and represented his unit on the deck of the USS Missouri the day Japanese officials signed the surrender.

He “came home on a Liberty ship” and married her mother on Nov. 6, 1945, at the base chapel at Griffiss. The following week, her mother “mustered out at Fort Dix in New Jersey.”

Jane Doyle’s parents lived on the West Coast for a while, but eventually returned to Altoona. There, they raised four children and Doyle’s mother worked as a bookkeeper for a law firm. Unfortunately, Doyle’s father died at age 58 of a heart attack. Her mother continued to work, retiring finally at age 76.

After her death, her children decided to donate her old photos to the Rome Historical Society, Doyle said, because “We knew they were something special.”

The Society welcomes donations of old, historic photos. If anyone else would like to donate photos, they can call the Society at 315-336-5870, and someone will make copies of the photos and return the originals to the owner, while the owner waits.

Other Rome-area women served in the WAC, at Rome Army Depot or elsewhere. Among them were Betty Scheiderich of Lee, Marie Yanthis of Rome, and Dorothy Vedder of Sylvan Beach. Iris Barnes of Rome served as a Navy WAVE.

This column was written for the Rome Historical Society by Chip Twellman Haley, retired Daily Sentinel news editor, with photo supplied by the Doyle family and the society. Comments, old photos or suggestions for future columns may be emailed to: Copies of the book “Rome Through Our History,” a collection of some of Haley’s columns, may be purchased at the Rome Historical Society.

The Rome Historical Society, 200 Church St., is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Go online, visit their Facebook page, or call 336-5870 for more information.