Harriet M. Waddy WAC Officer, Dies at 94
By Richard Goldstein,, March 8, 1999
Harriet M. Waddy, one of the two highest-ranking black officers in the Women's Army Corps in World War II and its wartime adviser on racial issues, died on Feb. 21, 1999 in Las Vegas, Nevada She was 94.
In April 1943, First Officer Harriet West, as Harriet Waddy was then known, made a radio broadcast on behalf of the Army, urging black women to get into uniform.
She said that joining the segregated military "and accepting a situation which does not represent an ideal of democracy" was not "a retreat from our fight" but "our contribution to its realization."
The 6,500 black women who joined the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, created in 1942, and the organization that succeeded it a year later, the Women's Army Corps, joined an institution in which segregation was the official policy.
Many were used as uniformed domestic servants, assigned to cleaning officers' clubs. Harriet West tried to ease their distress after she was promoted to major and named an aide to the WAC director, Col. Oveta Culp Hobby.
Major West and Maj. Charity Adams, who commanded the only unit of black Wacs sent overseas in World War II, were the only two black women to attain the rank of major in the wartime WAC.
"Harriet was charming," Charity Adams Earley recalled last week from her home in Dayton, Ohio. "She looked good, and she was well-disciplined, as we were all trained to be."
Major West's composure must have been sorely tested when she was dispatched to the South to hear the grievances of black Wacs.
Lula Jones Garrett, a reporter for The Philadelphia Afro-American, who accompanied Major West on a trip from Atlanta to Fort McClellan in Anniston, Ala., in 1944, wrote how Major West "had been insulted by a white conductor whom she had asked to hand her baggage from the train."
Major West fought racially insulting Army decrees. On a visit to Wacs at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, she recommended that "all reference to white and colored personnel be completely eliminated" from the official memorandums on information boards. She said she saw that move as bringing "less embarrassment to the colored personnel and a general feeling that a forward step has been made toward democracy."
Service in the wartime military, in her view, would help blacks gain acceptance in postwar America. She said that military service would give black women a chance to "show their ability" and be "of future benefit to the whole race."
Harriet M. Hardin was born in Jefferson City, Mo., on June 20, 1904, and brought up by a grandmother after her mother died. A graduate of Kansas State University, she worked during the Depression as an aide to Mary McLeod Bethune, the director of the National Youth Administration's Division of Negro Affairs and later a civilian adviser to the WAC.
She entered the WAC officer candidate school at Fort Des Moines in 1942. She was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1948 and retired from the armed forces in 1952. Then she worked for the Federal Aviation Administration and counseled troubled girls at a Job Corps center in Oregon.
A longtime resident of Eugene, Oregon, Mrs. Waddy moved to Las Vegas in 1998 to live with a friend, Barbara Connolly, when her health declined. She was married four times but left no immediate survivors. In the war years, she was married to Dr. Charles West, a physician. She and her fourth husband, Maj. Edward Waddy, were divorced.
Another friend, Marie Marshall of Eugene, recalled how Mrs. Waddy was still bowling and driving a car into her 90's. Mrs. Marshall viewed her as a strong and independent woman who said, "The Frank Sinatra song 'My Way' was just perfect."
Go to: Vietnam Medal of Honor Citations
Go to: Obituaries
© 1999 by Neil Mishalov