- An Officer and a Lady: The World War II Letters of Lt. Col. Betty Bandel, Women’s Army Corps
An Officer and a Lady includes excerpts from letters that Betty Bandel—among the first 440 women to attend Officer Candidate School at the First Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) Training Center at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, in the summer of 1942, and who served as aide to Director Oveta Culp Hobby and as Chief Air-WAAC Officer—wrote home to her family in Tucson between June 1942 and August 1945. The letters are deposited in the Bailey-Howe Library (Special Collections) at the University of Vermont in Burlington, where Miss Bandel taught English from 1947 until her retirement in 1975.
Born in 1912, Betty Bandel was a reporter at the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson when she joined the WAAC. She was among the first women—the Pioneer 440—who arrived at Fort Des Moines on 20 July 1942, to begin six weeks of officer training. Having brought her typewriter, that first day she typed a letter to her mother: "We get along well. All these people look the earnest small professional type—schoolteachers, etc. No glamour girls, I can assure you. Some bright, some bossy. I am really having a wonderful time" (p. 7). Bandel and her colleagues advanced quickly to become senior officers [End Page 267] and rose to the top of the Women's Army Corps administration during World War II. Fellow first OCS class graduates included Mattie Treadwell, who wrote the definitive official history, The Women's Army Corps, a volume in the United States Army in World War II series (Washington: GPO, 1954) and Charity Adams Earley, who wrote One Woman's Army: A Black Officer Remembers the WAC (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1989).
Bandel was among eighteen newly graduated officers assigned to WAAC headquarters in Washington, D.C., where she served as aide to Director Oveta Culp Hobby—"that most diplomatic of diplomats, and most forceful of leaders" (p. 35). Witty and entertaining, Bandel relates her travels accompanying Hobby across the United States to inspect WAAC units and in England to visit British women's military organizations. When, during a visit to the United States by Jean Knox, head of the British Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), Hobby and Bandel expressed at such length their "wonder over the state of the Englishwoman's shoes (they shine like old mahogany) that Knox got out her little box of polishes, . . . took off her coat, rolled up her sleeves, and gave us a lesson in how to polish shoes. Most amazing sight you ever saw—this faultlessly dressed, every-eyelash-groomed Englishwoman, with her eyes that look through you—solemnly polishing away at the Colonel's shoes as if she were playing a Bach concerto" (p. 40).
Bandel's letters are witty, detailed accounts of her experiences written during the formative years of the U.S. Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, which became the Women's Army Corps in 1943; but unfortunately and disappointingly this volume is not a documentary edition of her letters. Most scholars will find the transcription editorial policy disturbing: "The letters in this book have been excerpted from the very long originals. Due to the extensive editing of some of the letters, ellipses to indicate deleted text have been omitted as they would have distracted the reader without contributing to the narrative" (p. ix). Serious researchers would have preferred the ellipses along with editorial explanation, rather than not knowing where, what, and how much text in the original letters has been silently omitted. This reviewer compared several of the original (photocopied) letters that Bandel wrote during training at Fort Des Moines in 1942, and found that the printed version included random silent omissions ranging from one word, sentence, or paragraph to over two single-spaced typed pages. Scholars wishing...