Ruth Mills Bradley: Military Pioneer 1911-1995
When the United States entered World War II, women were eager to serve the nation. Although military leaders needed women for a wide range of tasks, they were skeptical that women could be good soldiers. They compromised on a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, which remained separate from the army and did not receive the same protections and benefits. As women proved their value to the military effort, the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) became part of the regular army in 1943.
Ruth Mills Bradley was the first woman from Connecticut to join the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in 1942. She was one of thousands of women who volunteered to do noncombat work (mostly clerical and communications), both in the U.S. and overseas, in order to free more men to fight.
After training at Fort Des Moines, Bradley served as a supply officer of a WAC Headquarters Company, rising to become the commanding officer of that unit in 1943. In 1944 she left for the Pacific with 900 WACs under her command. She served in both New Guinea and the Philippines, providing vital support for combat operations in the South Pacific. Conditions were challenging, living in tents with limited water and uniforms ill-suited to the climate, but Bradley later said, “I wouldn’t take a million dollars for the many experiences.” In war-torn Manila, she was responsible for the WAC detachment, and was commended for “soldierly conduct, high morale, and record of accomplishment…a record that should be an adequate answer to those who questioned the ability of American women to endure the rigors of field service.”
After the war, she went back into the WAC, and worked for the military in both Europe and at the Pentagon until her retirement in 1969. As lieutenant colonel, she had achieved the highest rank a woman could have at that time, and received numerous awards and honors for her work.