Clara Byrd Geraldine Cox UNCG WAAC Woman's College of the University of North Carolina Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps

Like a Duck to Water: Spotlight on the Military Life of Alumna Geraldine Cox

Geraldine Cox (1918 – 1988) was a small town girl from Washington, North Carolina, but she accomplished a great deal during her multiple careers. Cox entered the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina (now UNCG) in 1935 and earned her degree in English four years later. Directly after graduation, with plans to become a librarian, she enrolled in the School of Library Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her career as a librarian took her as far afield as Salt Lake City, where she worked at the University of Utah. Letters home spoke of her enjoyment of the library work, skiing lessons on the weekend, and her interest in Red Cross work.

Geraldine Cox, US WAAC

The prior year of her life had seen many changes. Not only had she moved across the country in search of a new career, but the United States had entered World War II. Perhaps, it was her involvement with the Red Cross that led her to enlist in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) only a month after it was formed as the women’s branch of the United States Army. Joining the WAACs in the summer of 1942, she went through training at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, and was later transferred to Daytona, Florida, where she worked as a training instructor in the Motor Transportation Division. Cox test drove tanks and jeeps, and instructed other WAACs how to drive and care for large Army trucks. She was amazed that, in many cases, the smaller, frailer women made the best drivers.

Periodically, she wrote Miss Clara Byrd, the Alumnae Secretary at Woman’s College, to keep her up-to -date about her activities. One note expressed how well-suited she was to military life and compared her Army training to her college experiences. She wrote honestly of her belief that her academic education had fallen short. She believed that the applicable education and training that she received in the Army better prepared her for life’s challenges than a liberal education focusing on “manners and culture,” both integral parts of a 1930s woman’s education. Her letter even commented that “there’s much in the education and handling of women that educators could learn to their profit from the Army.” Perhaps reflecting her feelings about her past college experiences, she found in the Army an impartial environment, where “neither money, social position, or graces count.” 

Senior Photograph and Notation from the 1939 Pine Needles Yearbook (p. 48)

While in Florida, she sent a letter to Miss Byrd describing her experience in the WAACs. She found it amusing that people believed that women could not thrive in the military life. She reported quite the contrary, writing that “Girls seem to take to the life like ducks to water!” She described her fellow WAACs working long hours at tedious and difficult jobs, with little rewards. Sometimes working over forty hours per week without overtime, Cox reported that they “belonged to Uncle Sam twenty-four hours a day, including Sunday!” She especially marveled at the positive attitudes and fun-loving spirits of her comrades. Proudly, she informed Miss Byrd that the WAACs were well respected by the men, who seemed surprised that the women could keep up with them. Cox closed her letter by stating that even with the hard work and long hours, “you won’t find a harder working or happier bunch of women in the world than WAACs.”

 Cox later attended Officer Training School, gaining the rank of First Lieutenant, and spent the last years of the war as a recruiter for the Army Airs Forces in Minneapolis, Minnesota and at an air field at a WAAC Detachment in Denver, Colorado. Like many women, she did not remain in the Army after the war. She left the services in 1946 and returned to her work as a cataloger in the library at the University of Utah and spent her later life, once again, in the role of a teacher in Bath, North Carolina.

By Kathelene McCarty Smith

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