By Jeanne Howell Chambers
While stationed at Ft. Oglethorpe in Georgia in the fall of 1944, Women’s Army Corps (WAC) clerk-typist Ruth Brill checked in with her family to let them know that she was now “the perfect specimen of health” because “they really worked the fat off.” On Jan. 29, 1945, Ruth wrote, “This Army stops for nothing,” then on April 2 she lamented that she still hadn’t received any Christmas presents. Three months later on July 12, Ruth requested a care package containing mascara – Maybelline, black. About six weeks after that, on Aug. 21, 1945, Ruth wrote home describing how they celebrated the end of the war in Manila.
Ruth writes of a commendation for dedicated service in her military autobiography, but there’s more she neglected to mention. She also earned the Good Conduct Medal, four Bronze Stars awarded for meritorious service because of her close proximity to combat zones (specifically the Battle of Leyte and Philippines Campaign while stationed in Manila), the Asiatic-Pacific Service Medal, the Philippine Liberation Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal (which was awarded to commemorate Ruth’s service during World War II). Established in 1944, the Bronze Star Medal is the ninth highest military award (including both combat and non-combat awards) in the United States Armed Forced that may be awarded for bravery, acts of merit, or meritorious service.
Before her enlistment, Ruth shared an apartment with her cousin, Mary Ada Baer, in Washington, D.C. where she worked for the War Department in the Adjutant General’s Office, the Secret and Confidential Files Section. From there Ruth and Mary Ada moved to New York City, and Ruth took a job in Newark, New Jersey as the chief clerk in the Office of Dependency Benefits and Communications Branch. In route to their overseas stations, Mary Ada was dropped off in Brisbane, Australia on Dec. 2, 1944, and the two were not reunited until June 27, 1945 when they spent an evening together in Manila. In her letter describing the reunion, Ruth says she hardly recognized Mary Ada.
Ruth’s husband, Robert W. Brill, served in the Middle East during World War II, the engineer on trains loaded with supplies to the troops. After the war, the couple settled in Youngstown, Ohio, and because jobs for women were hard to come by after the war, Ruth became a homemaker while Robert continued as a railroad engineer for the Pittsburgh Camp; Lake Erie Railroad. In the late 1960’s, Ruth went back to work with the Selective Service, a job that lasted until the Vietnam War ended and the draft board closed. With the departure of the Selective Service from Youngstown, Ruth continued to support the military the only way she could: through memberships in the American Legion Post 15, Women in Military Service for America (she was a charter member), and the National World War II Museum. America lost a true patriot and a good woman when Ruth Brill passed away peacefully on Nov. 4, 2013.
What Was It Like to Be a WAC?
From her letters, we get a glimpse of Ruth Brill’s day-to-day life while serving overseas in the Women’s Army Corps. Here is a more detailed account of Ruth’s military service, written in her own words.
I enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps in New York City on February 10, 1944. I was sent to Fort Oglethorpe, GA for basic training at the Third WAC Training Center.
Afterward, I was assigned as an office clerk for Captain Elizabeth Skeels, OIC (Officer in Charge) of the Basic Training Academic Section. Captain Skeels arranged for me to attend Troop Leadership School and receive an assignment to the Station Complement as acting First Sergeant. She then recommended me for Warrant Officer training. I was scheduled to take the exam in Atlanta, but chose not to so that I could take orders for overseas duty.
I left Fort Oglethorpe by rail on November 9, 1944, traveling through St. Louis, Salt Lake City, and Reno en route to Camp Stoneman, CA. I left Camp Stoneman on November 18 for San Francisco, my port of embarkation. On November 19th I boarded the SS Monterey, a troop ship. Four days out we were spotted by a Japanese sub and went 500 miles off course to avoid contact. One ship in our group was sunk.
On December 2 we stopped in New Caledonia and then headed to Brisbane, Australia. In Brisbane we let off some troops, including my cousin, Mary Ada Baer, whom I did not see for another year, when she arrived at my duty station in Manila. On December 14 we arrived at Headquarters, USAFFE (United States Armed Forces in the Far East), Hollandia, New Guinea, and I was assigned as file clerk for the Office of the Theater Censor (military censorship). Here I became aware, through the material I handled, of serious security concerns and our responsibility for the safety of our troops. I also remember the gorgeous sunsets there.
While waiting on orders for Manila, I received orders to Biak, Office of the Base Censor, APO 920 (Army Post Office), located on the equator. Here I typed and filed excerpts from GI letters that were not permitted to be mailed out of the Theater of Operations. There was a rumor that the Japanese were threatening to “blast the WACs off Biak”. One evening while visiting the enlisted men’s social area, a Japanese plane strafed the area. There was panic and casualties of enlisted men. I drove the truck on our very speedy trip back to our quarters. We never knew where the plane came from.
In April, I was transferred to Tacloban, Leyte, Philippines, on detached service. It was during this assignment I experienced my most heartfelt emotions during the war. I had the honor to participate in the dedication of a Military Cemetery. I was filled with sadness, hope, and great love for my country. A photo of me in that procession is on file with the Women’s Memorial in Washington, D.C.
In May, I was assigned to the Counter Intelligence Corps Detachment in Manila as a clerk-typist. I was working with information gleaned from various sources regarding anti-US activities and people as part of the effort to stabilize and protect the war effort. At night we would go up on the rooftop at De LaSalle College to see and hear the sights and sounds of fighting to the North. I visited Corregidor and saw the spot where General Wainwright surrendered. There was massive destruction on land and in the bay, which was full of sunken vessels and debris.
On VJ day (Victory over Japan) our troops celebrated, and I received a written commendation from Colonel Galloway for my dedicated service to the Counter Intelligence Corp Detachment. On December 7, 1945 I was discharged in Manila, and reinstated in the War Department, Civil Service, for duty in the Occupation of Japan.
I had a wonderful, memorable experience in the service. The accelerated pace of my assignments continuously offered me new experiences. I am very proud of my contribution to the war effort. I have always felt that I made a valuable contribution to a noble, worthy effort. I was always treated with respect and civility. I am truly appreciative of being born a citizen of the United States, and of the sacri?ces so many people made to bring an end to the con?ict. My time in service gave me a depth of patriotism and gratitude I will always have as a citizen.
This story appeared in the April 2014 issue as a part of the cover story featuring Ruth’s daughter Carla Waters. The mother/daughter duo took paths that were the same but different.