Cartersville 90-year-old 'loved every minute' of her World War II service
by Marie Nesmith
Nov 06, 2011 | 2486 views | 0 0 comments | 25 25 recommendations | email to a friend | print
SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
Juanita Hamilton holds a photo of herself when she served in the Women’s Army Air Corps during World War II.
SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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Two days after turning 90, Juanita Hamilton gladly took a trip down memory lane with her eldest son, Eddie. On Wednesday, the Cartersville residents reminisced about her military service during World War II, flipping through black-and-white photographs and letters from her late husband, Edwin.

"I loved every minute of it," Hamilton said about her service in the Women's Army Air Corps and the 814th Army Air Forces Base Unit. "Being with people telling me what I had to do and not do, that meant a lot to me.

"And just going, doing, seeing, being in the crowd doing something, I enjoyed it so much. ... [I] just felt so proud to have that uniform on. I'm very proud of it," she said, adding she did not face any negative experiences due to her gender. "I was treated as if I was a queen. I don't mean it like that but, yes, I was treated well."

Wanting to help the war effort, Hamilton enlisted in the WAACS on March 12, 1943, at the age of 21. At that time, her husband-to-be had already joined the Navy, where he would participate in almost every major battle in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans on board the destroyer escort, USS Major DE-796.

"I was dating a boy for some time" she said, referring to Edwin. "So he went [into the Navy] and when he came home on furlough, I said, 'I want to join something.' And he said, 'Do as you please.' I knew that I was going to anyway so that was the beginning of it. I wanted to do something. I was tired of hanging around doing nothing. So I got an application [and] put it in my pocket [and thought], 'I'll [mail] it whenever I want to.'

"So [at the] Atco Store -- they had a post office in there -- and one day me and my sisters and other people, we were over there and I had it in my pocket, so I thought I'd just drop it in now. And I dropped it in the mailbox. It wasn't long until I got [word] to go to Fort McPherson in Atlanta and that's where I was sworn in. To me [living in Cartersville during World War II] was sad but you had a good time. You went here and there but you were never satisfied. To me, with Edwin gone, it was empty."

After being sworn in, Hamilton trained in Daytona Beach, Fla., and was stationed at Fort Benning when she transferred into the U.S. Army Air Forces in 1943. Afterward, she was assigned to Fort Bragg, N.C., and a base in Indianapolis, Ind., before returning to and ending her military service at Fort Bragg in 1945.

"I'm very proud of her and her accomplishment," Eddie Hamilton said. "Not only myself -- my brother, Ralph Hamilton, and all our family -- is proud of her and what she did because it was unheard of back during World War II in the '40s.

"There were few women that went in [the service] and most of those were either nurses or women [who] later became nurses. ... The biggest thing [that] she has expressed [was] how she enjoyed her service. She really enjoyed every minute of it. She had a good time, met a lot of good people and a lot of good friends."

While stationed stateside, she and her fellow WAACS members helped keep the bases running while the men were fighting oversees. Duties ranged from landscaping to cleaning but Hamilton's main role -- which she loved -- was overseeing the mail service at Fort Bragg. With mail needing to be delivered and picked up twice a day, her responsibility was a never-ending one.

Among the many memories that stand out -- such as the snowy terrain of Indianapolis and while training in Daytona Beach, being dropped off in the mosquito-infested woods at night to keep guard with a one flashlight -- her favorite is her impromptu wedding. While on a 12-day furlough, she married Edwin on Dec. 6, 1944, in Bartow County, honeymooning at the old Hotel Braban in downtown Cartersville.

"We wrote to each other [often]," Hamilton said. "[Then] he came home on leave and I was getting leave at that time. He lived in Emerson and I lived in Cartersville. So we got together and we decided that we were going to get married just out of the blue. So that's what we did. [We were not engaged but] we'd been talking about it so we just decided that was enough of that. It surely was [an exciting time]."

Honorably discharged exactly a year after their wedding, she returned to Emerson, starting a family with her husband. With him being a manager for Colonial Stores and later Big Star grocery stores, they also resided in Lawrenceville, Rome and Dalton through the years. Along with helping raise two sons, she also was a licensed practical nurse and cosmetologist.

"Me and some boy were walking the street on the base in the rain and that's where I was when I heard the war was over," she said. "I was so happy. I thought, 'Oh, Edwin will be free' -- not even thinking of myself -- 'Oh, it won't be long till I can see him.' [I was] just thrilled, not thinking beyond that. [It was] just a good, happy day."

Referring to his parents' service, Eddie Hamilton said is honored to belong to a military family and is looking forward to paying tribute to all service members on Veterans Day this Friday.

"I am very proud of my parents and of all the veterans that served in the war," he said. "Many of them did not come home and many of them came home wounded or torn up or suffering a lot of loss. Not only them but their families all suffered hardships. We take for granted a lot of the freedoms that you and I and everybody has today because of the people in World War II, what they did. They sacrificed.

"They put the country ahead of themselves and they did what was necessary. I don't think -- not only World War II but World War I and all the way back, each war -- we would not be where we're at today, would not have the freedoms that we have today, had it not been for the veterans that served this country. I'm just very proud that they do have a day that they do honor them. I wish it was observed by more and the meaning of it was recognized by more."