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WACs in Whitehorse

To veteran dogfaces of the Alaskan Division, Air Transport Command, thousand-mile hops over endless miles of dense timber, icy peaks, rotting muskeg, and tundra is nothing more than a boring, necessary evil.  But to a group of the Women's Army Corps, heading for the ATC Base in the "heart of the Yukon," the 1300-mile flight from East Base, Great Falls, to Whitehorse filled pages in letters to the folks back home.

These gal GIs had several "firsts" to write about -- first WAC outfit to serve in Canada, first of Alaskan Division WACs to see foreign duty, and the farthest north detachment of WACs in the world.  Among them were the first Amy Airways Communication WACs sent out of the States.

Volunteering for duty at Whitehorse, the rip-roaring town of the '98 gold rush days when gold-mad prospectors trekked from Skagway up the Yukon to the Klondike, the WACs were sent to the Aerial POE at East Base for the never-ending ''processing."  Insurance, physical exams, clothing issue, records checks and rechecks -- plus the 1,000 other details of processing.  Girls will be girls, and the most exciting day was spent at Supply where a complete set of specially-designed Arctic clothes was issued.  Jodhpur-type slacks, pile-lined jackets, olive-drab parkas, gauntlets, boots, heavy stockings, mosquito netting, as well as warm unmentionables, kept the gals packing and repacking.  Of course, each WAC stuffed her cosmetic kit full of "essentials" -- can't take a chance of running out of lipstick in the middle of the Yukon!

One Sunday morning in September, the gals didn't eat too heartily at breakfast -- the bi day for the flight to Whitehorse had arrived.  By noon the first plane -- a C-46 transport -- was loaded with wide-eyed gals, barracks bags, stuffed dogs, and souvenirs.  This twin-engine ship -- and the others that followed -- headed into some mighty rough weather that more that excused the symptoms of air-sickness which soon appeared.  Three gals sat in the tail of the C-46 -- but never will again!  Just a little groggy, the first group hopped out at Whitehorse around midnight, and it was two o'clock the following afternoon when the last lane taxied up the ramp.

Against a backdrop of snow-flecked mountains, the WACs were welcomed by Canadian airmen, as well as Whitehorse Air Base officers and enlisted men.  A team of five sled dogs, being trained nearby for search and rescue work, barked out a welcome.

The newcomers now serve as clerk typists, radio operators, teletype and telephone operators, postal clerks, chauffeurs.  Link trainer operators, and air operations specialists.  They replaced men who have been transferred to more isolated spots.

But these jobs don't take up all their time, figure the men.  Whitehorse soldiers began with a Circus dance" at the Base Theater at which the WACs were guests.  Since then the Sergeants' Club has been throwing weekly parties.

"The lady soldiers, no doubt, expected to find an air base in the Yukon a virgin wilderness, infested by wolves, bearded soldiers, and John Bunyans," reported Cpl. Francis O'Brien of Whitehorse.  "To their amazement it's not virgin, nor wilderness, nor Bunyanesque; it's quite -- well, shall I say -- chic."

The men soldiers didn't quite know what to expect of the WACs.  They still don't know what to expect unless it's anything from hors d'oeuvres in mid-afternoon to looking foolish in a poker game.  Poise, at least, has accompanied the lassies in Khaki.  The men now accept anything with perfect aplomb.


Source:  Alaska Life: The Territorial Magazine.  Juneau, Alaska: Alaska Life Publishing Co., June, 1945.




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