- USAF Academy Department of History
An Officer and a Lady: The World War II Letters of Lt. Col. Betty Bandel, Women's Army Corps
by Lorry Fenner
One of the negative consequences of the 1978 integration of the various women’s auxiliaries into the mainstream of the U.S. military was a loss of institutional memory. The Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation was established, in part, to preserve a thread of history by documenting and celebrating the rich and varied experiences of women in the U.S. military. From 1942 to 1945, Lieutenant Colonel Betty Bandel (retired) served in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC, later WAC, the Women’s Army Corps), eventually heading the WAC Division of the Army Air Force. During these years she wrote hundreds of letters to family and friends tracing her growth from an enthusiastic recruit, agog in the presence of public figures such as Eleanor Roosevelt (code named Rover), to a seasoned officer and leader.
Bandel was one of the Corps’ most influential senior officers. Her letters are rich with detail about the WAC’s contribution to the war effort and the inner workings of the first large, non-nurse contingent of American military women. In addition, her letters offer a revealing look at the wartime emergence of professional women. Perhaps for the first time, women oversaw and directed hundreds of thousands of personnel, acquired professional and personal experiences, and built networks that would guide and influence them well past their war years. Thus, Betty Bandel’s story is not only an intimate account of one woman’s military experience during World War II but part of the larger story of women’s history and progress.