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WACs at Camp Hale were hardly a secret

Brief by Central Staff

Local History – December 2004 – Colorado Central Magazine

Camp Hale, the World War II Army base north of Leadville that trained the ski troops of the famous 10th Mountain Division, occupies a secure place in the history books.

And recently, there was a breathless announcement that there was more to the base’s history — specifically, 200 women served there during the war, among the 16,000 men.

As a Denver Post story on Nov. 11 put it, “They were pioneers — the first women to enlist in the American military. But they were quickly forgotten.” And now they’re remembered, thanks to a new history published by Monys Hagen, a professor at Metropolitan State College in Denver whose mother served at Camp Hale.

t’s a little more complicated than that, and even this magazine has offered evidence that the women were not forgotten.

Civil War historians often point out that the physical examinations given to recruits in the 1860s were so cursory that a few women got uniforms and rifles, and fought in battles. At the start of the 20th century, there was an Army Nursing Corps, and during World War I, there were female auxiliaries.

To mobilize more completely for World War II in 1941, there was the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, whose members did not enjoy regular pay and rank. It was superseded in 1943 by the Women’s Army Corps, who held regular rank and pay. And it was the first of these WACs who were assigned to Camp Hale, where they worked in a variety of non-combat roles.

But their presence could hardly have been a secret unknown until this fall. Last February, we published an article by Allen Best about an American soldier, Carl Maple — a German sympathizer assigned to Camp Hale who bought a car in Salida to help some German POWs escape in 1944.

After their capture, the Army investigated the base, and “found other evidence of sympathies for German soldiers [at Camp Hale]. Five WACs, at least one of whom was married, were found guilty of having exchanged fond glances, words, letters, and whatnot with the prisoners. For these niceties they were sentenced to the guardhouse for terms of up to six months.”

They were the exceptions, of course, and as Hagen explained, the other WACs “felt it was a disgraceful episode … They felt pretty let down by it.”

Although the WACs at Camp Hale may not have gleaned the historical attention they deserved, their existence was never really covered up. But it’s good to know more about these pioneer soldiers, nonetheless — and to add to our area’s history.