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Love and War


Mon, May 22nd, 2000
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Spring Valley couple recall their WW II yearsBy Charles Pautler

Monday, May 22, 2000

Last year I gave a presentation for the Spring Valley Historical Society on the Battle of Gettysburg. Afterwards there were several interested people who wanted to talk to me about their family stories relating to the Civil War. I always feel guilty after these presentations because of the lack of time and all the people who want to talk. After the initial rush a man walked up to me and told me about his Civil War relative.

I could tell he was probably the right age for having served in one capacity or another during World War II, which is my other favorite topic of study. Being in the habit of asking people “so, what did you do during ‘the war’?”, he was just a few words into the answer when I could tell he was a good candidate for a “sit-down interview”. He was instantly likable and had more stories than time allowed, as both he and his wife had served in the war. However, it was over a year before I was able to talk at length with Jack and Caroline McGary about their lives during the war and get “the rest of the story”.

Jack was born at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas in December, 1917. His father, Graves “Barney” McGary, was a Major in the AEF (American Expeditionary Force). Fighting overseas in World War I, he was not able to see his son until 18 months after he was born. When he did, he quickly cut off the young boy’s long hair. I guess you could say that was the first of Jack’s many army hair cuts.

Over the next two decades Jack, his five siblings, and parents lived in many different locations including Camp Normoyle, Texas, and later the Philippines. While there from 1928-1930, Barney McGary served on General McArthur’s staff, and his family lived in a quiet little house near the base for two years. Boyhood injury did not evade Jack, for when he was seven he broke a rib which later became infected. After monitoring it for about a year, doctors decided it and two others had to be removed, a decision which would later play a role in Jack’s adult life.

Jack’s parents wanted their sons to get an education, but because the Great Depression was in full swing and money was tight, Jack had to wait on college until his older brother finished. “Work was non-existent back then, so I went back to high school to take more courses and gain more skills,” he told me. When at last able to go, he attended three different schools, finishing at Louisiana Tech. During this time Jack discovered a love of photography and shooting motion pictures. He used a camera a man had given his father to pay off a debt. “In college I developed an interest in training materials, filming football games for the coach to study.” This interest was to aid Jack in later military life.

By 1940 the war in Europe was heating up, and all men ages 18-35 had to register for what was to be the first peacetime draft. Jack was rejected by the army because of his missing ribs. He then went to where his parents were living at Ft. Warren Wyoming, and followed the war in the newspapers.

Working at a nearby ranch when the United States entered the war, Jack said “my father was able to pull some strings and get me into the army. I had to sign a waiver so that if I got hurt I couldn’t claim any compensation. “

Being the post commander’s son was not always easy for Jack once he was in the army. “Once I was called into the clerks office of Battalion HQ (Headquarters),” Jack laughed. “The un-informed clerk stated in a loud voice everyone could hear ‘Anybody who’s dumb enough to put the post commander’s wife’s name on the insurance form as the beneficiary just because she has the same last name is stupid!’ The room got very quiet. He looked around, then looked at me, and I could see the lights finally go on in his head. He said ‘okay, you may go’. Everyone laughed.” Caroline added “You sure don’t get many opportunities like that in the army!” After basic training Jack attended OCS (Officer Candidate School) at Fort Lee Virginia and specialized in Quartermaster work. He graduated from OCS as a 2nd Lieutenant.

Caroline’s Story


Like Jack, Caroline McGary is a sharp, energetic person who always has time to talk and share her lifetime experiences. She was born in Southwest Iowa and attended the University of Nebraska where she graduated in 1940. “Everyone talked about the war, which hadn’t started for us (United States) yet. All the men I knew were caught in the mandatory 13 months of ‘universal military training’. Almost all of them were due to get out when Pearl Harbor happened,” she told me.

Caroline taught English for two and a half years after graduating from college. During this time she found herself being affected by patriotism, especially once the war started. Although the opportunities for women in 1942 were quite limited when compared to today, this didn’t stop Caroline in her quest to serve her country.
“At first I wanted to join the Navy, but they weren’t going yet as fast as the army in starting their program. So I decided to join the WAAC (Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps). Most women in this program were very sharp”, she told me.

“Many were college teachers, lawyers, and some were business people. All were well educated and very gung-ho. All WAAC’s had to be at least 21 years old, even the enlisted personnel.”

Life was not easy for the new WAAC’s, and at times could be harsh in an old system that was dominated by men. “The sexual harassment and discrimination were bad at times, and was worse than the ‘Tailhook Incident’,” she said.

“However, nobody ever talked about it. We couldn’t even be armed when we performed payroll duty.” Later their name was changed to WAC’s (Women’s Army Corps) and they were sworn in again. They were then allowed to carry side arms, and were on a more equal footing with the other soldiers than they had been as WAAC’s

Some things were surprisingly equal in the army back then, such as pay between men and women. “We received $36 per month as a private, and commissioned officers received $75, for both sexes,” Caroline said.

Apparently the army tried to retrofit women’s clothing needs into an already-established clothing system designed for men. “We wore men’s overcoats, as well as men’s fatigues. The overcoats were down around our ankles,” Caroline laughed. “We also wore enlisted men’s knit caps and four-buckle arctic overshoes. If you wanted decent underwear, you had to buy it!”

In November 1942 Caroline was sworn in, and by Spring, 1943 had completed OCS and was a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Army. Her specialty was Detachment Commander.

“They needed a commanding officer and Mess and Supply officer at Fort Warren, where we were to start a new unit,” Caroline said. After some initial false starts, such as a unit already being there, Caroline was eventually the commanding officer of the WAC detachment.

Married in 1943


“So how did you and Jack finally meet?” I asked.

Both grinning, Caroline began “I met Jack when we went on bivouac (maneuvers) in the summer of 1943. By that time, Jack had completed OCS, and the commander at Fort Warren asked for him to come back and be in charge of the Training and Publicity Section. Because we were new, WAC’s were always in the limelight and always being photographed. Jack and some of his guys came up to take pictures of us when we were on bivouac, and I learned from him how to operate the projector so I could show training films. We kind of got together then, and were later married in December of 1943 when Jack had orders to go to California.”

Recalling California, Jack said “I was in the process of organizi

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