BY RENE TORRES
During World War II the United States government extended an invitation to all women to join the war effort at home. In the fall of 1943, the Office of War Information mounted the “Women in Necessary Services” campaign.
The Saturday Evening Post contributed to the campaign by enlisting Norman Rockwell to create a cover for its Labor Day issue. The illustration was one of his famous Rosie the Riveter images clad in red, white and blue.
Efforts to get behind the war were ongoing throughout the Rio Grande Valley two years prior to the National Campaign.
In 1941, “Valley Girls” were signing up to join the San Benito-Harlingen-Rio Hondo area Women’s Motor Corps. Captain Helen Hughes of San Benito, as commanding officer, oversaw forming the unit under the Department of Civil Defense.
The first organizational meeting was held in the Green Room of the Madison Hotel in Harlingen under the sponsorship of the American Legion Post. The post was responsible for providing a drill master and instructors.
Each member of the group was charged a fee of $10, of which $6.75 went for a uniform, 25 cents to the headquarters in Austin and $3 to the corps treasury for necessary expenses of the outfit.
Motor Corps Duty
Those who joined were strictly advised the compulsory courses — including first aid and motor mechanics — would have to be completed to tackle the rest of the given curriculum.
Other courses offered included map reading and intelligence, elementary radio operations, fire fighting, evacuation and truck driving.
The curriculum was divided into two to three-hour classes once a week. Day and night classes were offered if necessary. All courses required volunteers to perform at least 20 hours of work.
Captain Helen Hughes said then “enlistment is open to older as well as younger women.” The call for Valley-wide recruits was made to attend the first organizational meeting at the Legion Hall in San Benito.
Miss Hughes, from the onset, made sure the girls understood that the corps was organized along strict military lines.
Recruiting in San Benito and the rest of the Valley started immediately upon receipt of orders by Captain Hughes from the Austin Headquarters
“Valley Girls” supporting the war effort did not go unnoticed. All motor corps gals were in regulation uniforms, not only a very becoming one, but just as nifty and military looking as that worn by the boys.
After the first official meeting, local staff and drill officers for the Valley Women’s Motor Corps were announced as follows:
Staff Officers — Virginia Neirman, Sgt. of files; Thora Breedlove, Sgt. of finance; Peggy Jean Wilmeth, Sgt. of publicity and Margaret Hagedorn as 1st Sgt. of drill officers.
The organization was not short of drill officers and membership grew with every passing day. The “Valley Girls” answered the call to volunteer and were in the trenches with a great spirit of patriotism — encouraging each citizen to get involved.
The Women’s Corps’ ultimate aim was to become a recognized branch of the Civilian Defense set-up as was the Texas’ Home Defense Guard.