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Deciding to Enlist

February 18, 2012

Jean Byrd was working as the war broke out. But she wanted to join the military service. Initially, only the Army was accepting African American women, and only into segregated units in the Women’s Army Corps. That didn’t interest Jean.

A lot of the women were going into the Army. I said, I want to be different, I want to be something nice.

One day in late 1944, her family was visited by a family friend, Dean William Pickens of Morgan College in Baltimore, Jean’s father’s alma mater. Dean Pickens had a daughter who was a little bit older than Jean.

His daughter Harriet, when she came out of school, they were asking for women to go into the Navy. And I saw it in the paper, where she went up to Smith to train for officer’s training school. And I said, “So the Navy is for me.”

Truman said, “We would like for the ladies to volunteer their services to relieve a man and I think it would help us win the war sooner.”  I said, “I’ll go!”  I’m sitting there working for a defense company making apparatus to go into airplanes.

Jean enlisted in the WAVES and was sent to boot camp in May of 1945.

This photograph comes from the collection of Jean Byrd Stewart.

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