Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Christine Davis, 96, pioneer soldier

Sergeant among first to join WAC

By Rebecca Goodman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

AVONDALE - Christine Davis - one of the first Americans to join the Women's Army Corps and one of the first black women to rise to the rank of sergeant first class - died Thursday in her sleep at East Galbraith Nursing Home in Deer Park, where she had moved three days ago.

The Avondale resident was 96.

"Christine was a perfectionist," said her cousin and only survivor, Velma Billups of Silverton. "She was so particular about everything. I used to say, 'Man, I'd hate to be under her in the Army because if you don't make your bed right - forget it.' "

When Ms. Davis joined the Army in 1943, World War II was raging and the services of women were urgently needed. That summer, the Adjutant General's Office estimated that 2 million more men would have to be drafted in the next year. Of those, 600,000 would do work that women could easily perform.

Gen. George C. Marshall asked the WAC director, Oveta Culp Hobby, if she could provide that number of women.

Women serving in the military had been a controversial issue since before World War I, when only a small corps of nurses received military rank. Other women served overseas during the war, but many had to do so at their own expense and with no rank.

A bill was finally introduced in 1941 to establish a Women's Auxiliary Army Corps.

The WAAC took a beating from the media and the public. Editorial cartoons and general gossip impugned the morals of the women who volunteered - even though they had an excellent record of discipline and efficiency. And because it was an "auxiliary," the women weren't given military status.

The existence of the WAAC was threatened until Marshall requested organization of the WAC. The bill was passed by the Senate June 28, 1943, and signed by President Roosevelt on July 1.

Ms. Davis enlisted in Omaha, Neb., on Aug. 4 - before recruitment had begun in earnest.

"She loved it," her cousin said. The WAC was segregated - just as the Army was - and African-American women were generally made cooks and housekeepers because so many lacked an education.

But between 1943 and 1948, Ms. Davis served the Army as a typist, a telephone operator and in supervisory roles.

Born in Nadawah, Ala., in 1908, she completed the eighth grade before moving to Omaha, where she attended the Versie School of Cosmetics.

According to her military records, she was employed by the Ritz Beauty Salon in Omaha when the opportunity arose to join the WAC. Ms. Davis, who was 35, leapt at the chance.

At war's end, some of the women, including Ms. Davis, desired to make a career of military service, even though the Army was reluctant to keep them on. The Army began discharging them. Then on April 15, 1947, the WAC Integration Act was introduced in Congress. The Senate eventually approved it unanimously. Ms. Davis re-enlisted.

She passed the GED test in 1948 and was made a sergeant first class the same year. She served in Germany and Japan until her honorable discharge in 1963.

She was always proud of her military service.

Ms. Davis eventually moved to Avondale, where her relatives lived. She managed an apartment building there, but was always an Army sergeant at heart.

When the United States invaded Iraq last year, the 95-year-old Ms. Davis said to her cousin: "You know, I gotta get my uniform ready because I might be recalled."

Visitation is 9-10 a.m. today at Rockdale Baptist Church, 539 Forest Ave., Avondale, followed by the funeral. Interment will be at Dayton National Cemetery.


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