Few of the myriad books about World War II have ever attempted to provide a comprehensive history of its 350,000 American servicewomen. Out of the dwindling female veterans alive today, many have never even been asked to provide their first-person accounts. While compiling Valiant Women: The Extraordinary American Servicewomen Who Helped Win World War II, Lena Andrews found that female veterans had often been led to feel their experiences were not worth preserving, as their service wasn’t “real war work.” After a vivid recounting of her work distributing supplies to men headed to the front, Merle Caples, 98, remarks, “Oh my god, there are people out there who still care about me?” In a vital and engrossing attempt to correct the record, Valiant Women convincingly demonstrates that “American women who donned military uniforms in World War II were . . . at the center of the Allied strategy for fighting and winning the war.”
Andrews, a CIA military analyst, searched for living veterans by perusing local newspapers for mentions of servicewomen honored at events such as centennial birthday celebrations. In addition to these moving interviews, she takes a thorough look at the history of and skepticism toward women’s service programs in the US military. After the Army and Navy established programs, the Coast Guard and Marine Corps followed, but the commander of the Marine Corps, Lieutenant General Thomas Holcomb, was suspicious of the whole idea and “entirely lacked the foresight to recognize the value in expanding the Corps to include nonwhite men and women.” Andrews also details the struggle led by two rival pilots Jacqueline Cochran and Nancy Harkness Love to establish a women’s flying corps in the US Army Air Forces.
Possessing a clear narrative style and subject mastery, Andrews gives valuable context and meaning to these profiles of remarkable women, including Charity Adams, commander of the first Black WAC unit to serve abroad, and Dorothy Still, a Navy nurse in the Philippines, who spent three years as a prisoner of war with over 60 other women after the Japanese defeated American and Filipino forces on Bataan.
Valiant Women provides a vital, authoritative account of an almost-forgotten history, reminding us of all the stories it is past time to remember.