HERSTORY

HATTIE B. HARRIS

HATTIE B. HARRIS

 

Prior to enlisting in the WAAC, I experienced a happy and productive life. A native of Paris, Missouri, I was the daughter of the late Grimsley and Susie Bell. I attended the Crispus Attucks School through the tenth grade. That was as far as the grades went for the “colored” students at that time. I graduated from Garfield High School in Mexico, Missouri.

The day Pearl Harbor was attacked, I was attending Western University in Quindro, Kansas. Later moving to Jacksonville, Illinois, I secured employment with a defense plant in Springfield, Illinois. After reading about the WAAC and being very adventurous, I decided to join. My family and friends were not very receptive to the idea.

I signed up in Springfield. When my orders to report to Fort Sheridan, Illinois arrived, I was very excited. I met a group of ladies in Chicago and we traveled together to Boston, Massachusetts by train, and from the station by bus to Fort Devens. Upon arrival we were greeted by officers, shown our barracks, issued G.I. clothing; some of which fit, and some of which did not.

 

An outstanding memory of basic training was lining up in alphabetical order for a series of shots. I was third in line. Being afraid of needles, it was an unforgettable experience. I was resentful of doing KP in the white mess hall, when they did not come to us. I had no problem learning to do things the Army way. The 47th M.P. Battalion was stationed nearby. A few of the soldiers stationed there were classmates from high school. As our barracks were near the Service Club, we were able to meet, enjoy conversation and dance. This made basic training much more enjoyable.

Being a country girl, I signed up for Motor Transport School. After Basic, I was transferred to Fort Des Moines, Iowa where I was assigned to training in Motor Transport School. Following this training, I was assigned to Fort Dix, New Jersey for a short period where I drove an ambulance. I was then sent to Hollorand General Hospital in Staten Island, New York. Upon arrival at Hollorand, we were greeted and assigned our barracks and to the Motor School. The barracks were heated by coal burning stoves. German Prisoners of War were assigned to take care of the stoves. When they entered the barracks, they would yell out, “A Man in the House!!”. The barracks was like a large happy family. I cannot remember if there was ever a misunderstanding between any of the women.

During the European invasion, I drove an ambulance. When the ship’s arrived with the wounded soldiers, we would being early evacuation of patients to airports, and pick up the wounded from the ship and transport them to Brentwood or Hollorand Hospitals. In between ship arrivals, I drove a linen truck from the hospital wards where the German Prisoner’s of War loaded the truck and then I would take the linen to the laundry. I also worked at the Gas Station as an attendant, and as a teletype operator at Western Union.

 

When my tour duty was completed, I received an honorable discharge at Fort Sheriden on January 21, 1946. I relocated to Jefferson City, Missouri where my mom, family and friends were happy to have me back with them. Using the GI Bill, I enrolled at Lincoln University. Later I returned to Springfield, Illinois where I was employed by the Illinois Commission on Children as Office Manager. I was the first and only Black in the office.

 

My experiences in the Army gave me the courage, support, strength, and confidence to survive all sorts of events in my life. For a number of years, I have lived in the Bronx, New York. I have been a volunteer at the Methodist Church Home for the Aged in Riverdale, New York where I served on the Board of Directors and was President of the Auxiliary. A community activist, I have been involved with many programs and events in leadership positions. I have been honored and won numerous awards and citations, one of which was the Community Service Award presented to me by the President of the Borough of the Bronx. I am a charter member of the NABMW and an active member of the Northeast Region where I have served as a member of the National Elections Committee. I thoroughly enjoy my association with my “sister soldiers” and attending our meetings and Reunions.

(This copy  "was in her own words"  from the HerStory book compiled by Gladys Shuster Carter.)

© 2020 Black Military Women Foundation. 

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