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WAC reflects on days of service

Kingston resident Muriel Jean Whalley, 84, was raised in England and served in the U.S. Women’s Army Corps. - Courtesy Photo
Kingston resident Muriel Jean Whalley, 84, was raised in England and served in the U.S. Women’s Army Corps.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

KINGSTON — Sitting at a corner table in the Kingston Community Center Muriel Jean Whalley, 84, is dressed the same way she was 64 years ago.

In her dark, tailored skirt suit and Veterans of Foreign War garrison cap, she resembles the young woman pictured in a worn, yellowed photograph she holds in her hands.

The photo is more than 60 years old, taken of her in her United States Women’s Army Corps uniform in her hometown of Warrington in Lancashire, England, in 1945.

It was taken during a brief furlough from Paris, where she served in the Normandy Invasion of France in World War II.

“It was the first time I saw my family after four months of wondering if they were alive or dead,” she said.

Whalley, who was born in the United States while her British parents were here on holiday, earned her U.S. citizenship by birthright.

“You know, when you are born a little too soon — oops,” she said smiling. “I just couldn’t wait.”

After birth her parents returned to their home, not expecting that 15 years later Warrington, close to the port of Liverpool, would be the target of German bomb raids and gas masks would be a daily requirement.

“We were right in the thick of it all,” she said.

At the age of 20, she first noticed the famous WWII “Uncle Sam Wants You” poster.

On it it read: “Uncle Sam is aware there are U.S. -born females in the UK. If you are one please telephone this number.”

And Whalley did. But she still isn’t exactly sure what made her do it.

“He was the funniest looking bloke I’d ever seen,” she said. “Why would I want to talk to someone who looked like that? He was pointing at me and looked angry.”

In talking to the recruiter he explained the Army needed women, hardened to war, to help in the invasion of France.

She agreed, but had one question.

“Who is Uncle Sam?” she asked, to which he replied, “the United States.”

Whalley still remembers the look on her parents’ faces when she told them the news.

“You are going to get yourself bloody well killed,” said her father, who served in the British Army in World War I.

However, Whalley thought her chance at survival was equal staying in her hometown.

“I knew what war was — what it was like to be starved and we wanted it over,” she said. “It was something that had to be done.”

She was assigned to the special communications unit, 3341st Signal Service Battalion, C Company, which commanded the Paris telephone exchange France switchboard.

There she handled calls from Gen. Dwight Eisenhower to Gen. George Patton and relayed orders and troop movements at times.

The 45 women who were picked for the job arrived at Omaha Beach and had to go over the side of the convoy to get to the landing craft.

“There was no instruction on how to go over the ship’s side. We were dressed like the guys in heavy army boots, helmets and gear. I remember looking down the rope ladder and the waves were slapping between the ship and landing craft. You hoped that your boot was going to step on that next rung and you wanted to go fast enough so the girl coming down next wasn’t stepping on your fingers.”

While crossing the English Channel, Whalley said they only had hard tack and Spam and rested in lice-infested hay.

“We were eaten alive and it itched like crazy.”

Whalley remembers the night Glen Miller, a famous 1940s orchestra director, was killed in the plane crash across the English Channel.

She was attending a USO dance where Miller was supposed to be that night.

“All us girls were there waiting and crying, when we found out the news. It’s still a mystery, he was never found.”

Whalley said she just received her second medal for her service and until recently women weren’t recognized as war heroes.

That was especially the case in 1946. After serving two years in WAC, she moved to Brooklyn, New York.

“They told me, ‘Don’t tell anyone you are a WAC, tell them you were a nurse. Everyone believes you were there for the pleasure of the men,” she said.

Whalley said she was furious.

“We WACs worked 16 hour days and for someone to hit you in the face with that, I was not going to lie. The nurses did a wonderful job but they weren’t the only ones.”

Today, Whalley continues to live adventure to adventure from serving in the military to living on a sailboat in Mexico to backpacking through Europe.

“I’m 39 going on 38,” she said. “They tell me I’m 84 but that’s absolutely ridiculous.”

Looking back, Whalley said she is proud of everything her American brothers and sisters did. Laughing, she adds “Oh, I think he (Uncle Sam) looks all right now.”

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