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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Letter from Catherine Katopes to Dena and Jimmie, 8 October 1942

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Object ID: WV0122.4.017

Description: Katopes describes Basic Training at Fort Des Moines in detail, including a foot blister that confines her to barracks, physical descriptions and impressions of fellow WAACs; WAAC uniforms; loosing wieght; and specific rules and regulations.

Creator: Catherine Katopes

Biographical Info:

Catherine G. Katopes (1912-1979) served in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps and the Women's Army Corps from 1942 to late 1945.

Collection: Catherine G. Katopes Papers

Rights: It is responsibility of the user to follow the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). Materials are not to be reproduced in published works without written consent, and any use should credit Jackson Library, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Full Text: Dear Dena and Jim:

Well I have a chance to write you today, not because classes have let up but because I am confined to quarters. I acquired a lovely blister on my right heel yesterday and went down to the Infirmary this morning to have it taken care of. The doctor (a woman but not a WAAC) took care of it and told me to come back tomorrow morning. She told me to keep off of it today and so I am sitting on my bunk here in the barracks all by myself. I have been trying to put my notes into some semblance of order and so haven’t written much until just now (three o’clock).

I was able to go over to the Mess Hall with my bedroom slipper on my right foot. Here I have been waiting for a breathing spell and today because I had to stay in, I wish I was down in the classes. I hate to miss a class because then I will have to get my notes from some other girl.

The weather here has been fine except for last Saturday when it rained. I said it would rain on Friday night because I was washing a window. The one between me and a girl named Clara Stunz[?], who sleeps in the next bunk. On the other side of me is Virginia Newell from Portland, Oregon. She seems to me like the kind that has never had to do anything for themselves. She’s quite nice. In fact most the girls in our barracks are rather nice.

As one instructor said “We are the cream of the crop.” Some of these girls are the type that have gone to Boarding School, etc. But the way they all chip in and work, you would never know they were used to an easy life. We have a cute girl here, a Bertha Meyers of St. Louis, Mo. We call her Betty. She’s pretty, a blonde and quite chubby. I imagine she has been babied all her life but you would never know it, the way she cooperates.

I told you many of the girls are Southerners. So are quite a few of our instructors. Our Company Commander, Lt. Dorothy Benson, is a beautiful woman. Real blonde, lovely blue eyes and pretty teeth. She has a rosy tan and everyone likes her.

Our platoon Lieutenant is also well liked. She is small. Also a blue-eyed blonde. It’s a funny thing but most of the Waacs seem to be fair. From blonde to light brown. Of course there are dark-haired ones too but not as many. Most of our instructors are light-haired.

About a heavy coat--

When we arrived here, Iowa had a record-breaking cold spell. So we were told to sleep between the blankets instead of the sheets so as to keep warm. However, I didn’t feel too cold. My suit was just about right and by the time I got my uniform, the weather was almost in the nineties. It has been warm since then, except at 5:30 in the morning or rather at 6:00, which is reveille for us.

So a day after we were here, the Company secured Men Soldier Overcoats for us, as the WAAC overcoats haven’t come through yet. I imagine the manufacturers can’t keep up with the Waac’s. Well, all these coats are men’s size 36. Mine comes down to my ankles and the sleeves go beyond my fingers. We all look comical and we took some pictures of them. As soon as I can, I will send you some snapshots. You can’t help grinning when you see our Company in these overcoats. We look like Russians or something.

We wear the coats to morning mess and then we come back for cleaning of barracks until about 8 o’clock. The beds have to be made just so. The blankets have to fit snug--no wrinkles. They must be turned back so many inches. The pillows just so and the comforter rolled at the foot of the bed in a certain fashion. I shall try and take a picture of them. Perhaps it will come out all right, though the picture is taken indoors.

So you see I won't need an overcoat. I don’t imagine I will need a civilian coat for a while, as we won't have much time to go to town. Not if this training keeps up, as it is doing now. Still no one is complaining. It is quite an experience.

We are called Basic Auxiliaries. When we finish the four weeks Basic Training given to all, we will then perhaps be put in the Specialist class and will live in downtown Des Moines at the Savory Hotel for several week’s more training.

About getting fat--though we have good food and as much as we want, I do not overeat at the table. We have acquired an appetite of course because of being on the go all day long. However, since my G.I. (Government Issue) skirts were fitted to me, my waistline has shrunk an inch.

As for our rules and regulations, we have plenty. Lights out at 9:30 in the Barracks but we can stay up until 11:00 P.M. when we have to be in bed because Bed Check is made and if you aren’t in bed, it is reported. Saturdays and Sundays you can stay away over the weekend if you have a pass, and you have to sign out and sign in when you get back.

We cannot wear Civilian clothes on the post unless we are either on the way out or on the way back from town. We have two uniforms. One is called Uniform A, which is our oxfords, khaki skirts and shirts and our caps, which are made by Knox or Dobbs. (They both make them) We cannot go out without our caps.

Then we have our fatigue outfit, which is a brown and white seersucker, Bloomers and the dress. The bloomers take the place of shorts. We have fatigue hats and gym shoes and socks that go with this playsuit. And when we wear the playsuit, we have to wear the outfit complete when we go outdoors. I am always forgetting my hat or cap and am running back for it.

When in class and we have a question to ask of the instructor who is usually a Lieutenant, we say, “Mam, ---” and we stand at attention all the time we are talking to her. We cant lean on the chair back in front of us or stand on one foot.

Please explain to all, especially Koko that I simply don’t have time to write yet. After this week, perhaps I will have more time.

My regards to everyone I know and whoever asks.

Love, Cathy

P.S. I am glad I didn’t take my woolen robe. The G.I. robe I have is maroon velvet corduroy and is very nice.