CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
World War II / Cold War
A. Nora Howes
World War II / Cold War Oral History Interview
US Army, WAAC / WAC
Date: August 9, 2017
Interviewer: Carol Fowler, William Elwell
Summarizer: Taylor Williams
The subject of this interview, A. Nora Howes, was born in 1917 in Manchester, England. Her family moved to the United States in 1922, due to both the harsh living conditions England endured during and in the immediate aftermath of World War I, as well as her father’s loss of his job at Armstrong Whitworth in Manchester when Nora was but five years old. She had an aunt who lived in New Jersey, where her father worked for a year prior to her mother, siblings and her emigration to the United States to join him. They arrived at Ellis Island on October 21, 1922.
During World War I, conditions in the United States were far from ideal, but far better than those in England, and the country’s recovery from the war was rapid. Howes remarked that her father instilled in her and her siblings the belief that “whatever you have, you owe to this country,” a quote that further shaped her decision to eventually join the American Armed Forces.
Howes’ family had a military service tradition, primarily due to her mother’s brothers, who served in the British Army in France during World War I. With the advent of American entry into World War II, Howes decided to join the Armed Forces, and she eventually convinced her traditionalist father to allow her to enlist at the age of twenty-five. She initially tried to volunteer for the Navy but was rejected after a heart murmur was detected during her physical exam. Howes then tried the army, passed the physical and was accepted for the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC) in December 1942.
Howes attended basic training at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, where the commander was Colonel Hobart Brown, a former New Jersey National Guard officer. She stated that she was incredibly excited to train there, because she had never been to the American South. Howes described daily life at Fort Oglethorpe as waking up at five in the morning, engaging in physical training, going to the mess hall, and then attending classes all day. She recalled that she found the schedule quite manageable.
Following basic training, Howes attended a six-week course at Stephen Austin Teacher’s College in Nacogdoches, Texas, and upon completion was promoted to private first class. In 1943, she was assigned to Fort Devens, Massachusetts for advanced individual training, and then she became the secretary for the Camp Dental Surgeon at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. Howes’ next assignment was to return to Fort Devens, where she became acting first sergeant for a 120-woman company at the WAAC Training Center, even though her actual rank at the time was corporal.
In December of 1943, Howes attended Officer Candidate School at The Presidio army base in San Francisco, California. Upon graduation as a second lieutenant, she was sent to Fort MacArthur, California to serve as Assistant PX Officer, where she was detailed to visit facilities on the base and collect money. In 1944, Howes became a WAAC recruiting officer in Seattle, Washington. She recalled that she did not like Seattle and asked to be transferred. Howes was moved to Tacoma, Washington, but did not like that post either.
In 1945, Howes was sent to Walla Walla, Washington, where she worked in an administrative post in the general hospital. During this time, she also created the Tristate Washington Radio Program for Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. After duty at the hospital, Howes was transferred to Camp Beale, California, to be separated from service, as the WAAC, considered a war emergency force, was disbanded. With the subsequent creation of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), however, she applied to join and was one of 200 women with prior service in the WAAC accepted for WAC service.
Howes’ next position was as an Assistant Special Service Officer at Presidio in San Francisco. She commented on the rarity of being assigned a position in which she had previously served, and how lucky she was to get it. In another stroke of luck, Howes attended school at Fort Monmouth in New Jersey, and was consequently able to live with her parents through the duration of her time at the fort. Upon completion of her training at Fort Monmouth, she was promoted to Captain and sent to Tokyo, Japan as an Assistant Inspection Officer. The duties of her new position required her to travel from Japan to Okinawa, Guam, the Philippines and Korea.
During the interview, Howes commented on the current political climate, stating concerns regarding comments that President Trump and his administration have made towards and about North Korea. She stated that war will not hurt businesses or corporations but hurt the people. Howes claimed that it is different to sit in a board room and make decisions when it is not your son or daughter that is sent to the front lines. She also commented on the public firing of General Douglas MacArthur by President Harry Truman. Howes said that she believed that the United States would not have troops in the Korean Peninsula today if the war had been conducted differently. She also commented on the unfair regulations women faced in the United States Army during her era. Women could not get married or become pregnant while in uniform, or they would be discharged.
After spending time in the Far East front, Howes contracted tuberculosis and spent eighteen months in a hospital at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania; she lost two portions of her right lung and a rib during surgical treatment. Once healthy again, she was transferred to Fort McClellan, Alabama, which was, at the time, the WAC training center, to teach map reading. After spending some time there, Howes became a student herself at Fort Slocum in New York. In 1960, she was transferred to USAREUR in Heidelberg, Germany and spent time in Frankfurt during her thirty-month tour of duty as Special Services Fiscal Officer. Howes recalled that she did not enjoy the assignment as she was not “good with numbers,” which made her job as a fiscal officer difficult. After her European assignment, she was transferred to the Continental Army Command at Fort Monroe, New York and later to Fort Myer, Virginia. Her final post in 1970 was at Oakland Army Terminal in California.
A. Nora Howes served twenty-eight years of active service through some of the United States’ most major and crucial conflicts. After her retirement from the Armed Forces in 1970, with the rank of lieutenant colonel, she moved to Sonoma County, California where she lived for thirty-seven years. Howes graduated from college in 1979 with a BA in English and subsequently went on take graduate courses in American History. At the time of her interview, she was 100 years of age and was living in Brick Township, New Jersey.
On September 30, 2018, A. Nora Howes died peacefully at home at the age of 101.