Mama Saluted the President

Mama had joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in January of 1943. The WAAC was the predecessor to the Women’s Army Corps, but the women soldiers didn’t have military status. The WAACs were needed overseas, but the Army couldn’t provide them protection, if captured, or benefits, if injured. In March of 1943, Congress opened hearings on converting the auxiliary unit into the Women’s Army Corps, which would’ve made the women part of the Army with equal pay, privileges, and protection. It would also make a much larger army and let the women take over some of the jobs men were doing, so the men could go fight.

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Mama was stationed in Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia, the Training Center for the Women’s Third Army Corps. She had volunteered for Cooks and Bakers School because she came from a family of ten children and she thought she’d be good at cooking for a crowd. She was issued all the corps’ uniforms, but the cooks wore white short-sleeved dresses when they worked.

On April 17, 1943, Mama was in cooking school wearing her white uniform. A parade was scheduled on the post that day. The soldiers were expecting somebody important, a high up, but they didn’t know who it was. Mama was hoping for the president. She asked her instructor for permission to go, and her teacher said yes, and told her to put on her Army overcoat and button it all the way up to her neck to cover every inch of the white uniform.

Everybody else was already gathered at the parade grounds. As Mama ran out of the training center and down the sidewalk, a cannon began to fire, announcing the arrival of the guest. She counted the shots. 1, 2, 3. She got to the end of the sidewalk. 4, 5, 6. She ran down the steps. 7, 8, 9. She neared the street. 10, 11, 12. The cannon blasts kept coming.13, 14, 15. She saw a black car approaching. 16, 17, 18. She stopped at the curb. 19, 20, 21. She froze. Twenty-one shots. That’s HIM!

The President of the United States of America was in the black open-air vehicle coming right at her. She collected herself and did what she was trained to do. She stood at attention, straight as a board. She saluted. She had to get the salute exactly right, at the tip of the hat. She knew to hold it until it was returned.

The car stopped right in front of her. President Franklin D. Roosevelt sat in the back seat of the convertible, close enough for her to put her hand down and touch him. She looked right into his eyes. His dog Fala, a Scottish terrier who could curl his lips into a smile, was sitting in the President’s lap. Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby, the female director of the women’s corps, was sitting beside the president. They both saluted Mama.

The president wore a black cape, and his face was white as snow. He smiled at Mama and said, “That was good, soldier.”

That day, President Roosevelt reviewed three thousand WAACs on the parade grounds at Barnhardt Circle and inspected the women’s training program to determine for himself whether they should become part of the Army. On July 3, 1943, three months later, he signed the bill into law, and the Women’s Army Corps was born.

Mama was most likely the first soldier the president inspected on the post that day. I think Mama was the reason the auxiliary unit became the Women’s Army Corps.

 


Candy, Wool, and Fire

“What is your favorite candy bar?” That was the question posed on Facebook last week as we spiraled down to Halloween with visions of — not sugarplums — but sugar in our heads.

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That got me to thinking. When I was a little girl, I didn’t eat much candy at home because my mama always had a chocolate cake baked, and I could eat two or three slices at one time, sometimes with canned peaches on top, sometimes with a glass of milk. When I visited the grandparents during summers, though, it was an afternoon treat for all the kids to get in Papaw’s old aqua and white Nash and drive up the dirt road to Old Man George Smith’s Store at the intersection of Highway 495 and the old Meridian highway, both dirt with washed-out ruts.

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I don’t know whether George was old or not, but my grandfather always called him Old Man George Smith. Some of my favorite candy bars came from Old Man George Smith’s Store. It was a country store, made out of raw wood with raw wood floors and a squeaky front screen door and a side door that stayed open. I think even as a child, I liked the contrast of the blackened, weathered wood and the sweet, sugary candy bar treats.

Old Man George Smith’s was where I learned to like PayDays, Zero bars, and Hollywood bars. To this day a PayDay, caramel nougat coated in peanuts, and an ice-cold Coke pop in my mind when I stop for gas on a trip. But today’s ice-cold Cokes are not the same as yesteryear’s Coca-Colas in glass bottles stuck down in a red chest full of ice. Today, I can barely tolerate a Zero candy bar — caramel and dark nougat covered with white fudge — because it is so sweet. Still it’s the only white candy bar.

And then there was the Hollywood candy bar. A fluffy white nougat center with caramel and peanuts and a darker chocolate coating . . . this candy was different and delicious. By far my favorite.

Hollywood candy bar

After the summer I was ten and had my share of Hollywoods at Old Man George Smith’s Store, I turned eleven on Labor Day and started sixth grade. Sixth graders were allowed to cross the street in front of the school during lunch hour to get candy from a neighborhood market. I walked over there every day and got a Hollywood bar. There was an open-flame gas heater right in front of the checkout counter. I’m not sure why anyone would position fire at the legs of paying patrons, but the owner did, and one day I wore my brand new worsted wool outfit from Kamien’s — plaid in shades of gray, black, and white, with a pleated skirt and a thin leather belt tied across the matching wool top — and the skirt was just below the knees where the fire was, and I smelled something scorching. I smothered the smoke out before the wool burst into flames and consumed me with it. It was scary. And it ruined my new expensive outfit.

And my taste for candy.

I didn’t go back to the store any more. Hemline styles got a little shorter the next year so Mama hemmed my skirt and I wore it to seventh grade. I also started having pimples, so I quit eating chocolate. For two whole years I did not eat chocolate. And with that set into motion, all through high school and college and even into adulthood, I didn’t eat candy bars.

It doesn’t matter, though, because in 1996, Hershey acquired the Hollywood Brands company that manufactured PayDay, Zero, and Hollywood, and discontinued the Hollywood bar. What a shame. It could beat the pants off a Hershey Bar.