During World War II, Ruby Conley repaired machines and managed a team of women at a U.S. Army training center. She faced discrimination during her time in service and now, more than 50 years later, her family is fighting for the military benefits she earned.

Growing up, Lakita Conley-Ware’s mother told her stories about her service during the war. 

Now 99, Conley served in the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps when she was 21 years old — the first to enlist in her family. 

Conley-Ware said her mother “wanted to serve her country, because she wanted to make a difference.” 

A Woodbridge resident, Conley’s paperwork did not list her rank, her daughter said. It wasn’t until 2013 that they received an apology and a certificate from the U.S. Army that acknowledged her mother was an officer. 

Conley received recognition for her service and was awarded three medals on Dec. 29, 2018, with the assistance of the Veterans of Foreign War Post 1503 in Dale City. 

Ruby Conley served from March 27, 1943, until she was honorably discharged July 29, 1943, due to an injury. According to her daughter, it’s an injury that she suffers from to this day, so the family is fighting for military benefits Conley hasn’t received for her service.

 

SERVING AT HOME

A bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts created the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps in May 1942 after the U.S. entered WWII following the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.  

The federal law, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, created a reserve force of women to support the Army. The ‘auxiliary’ was dropped from the name July 1, 1943, when the Women’s Army Corps was made an official part of the U.S. Army. 

“This gave women all of the rank, privileges and benefits of their male counterparts,” according to the U.S. Army.

The first women to serve in the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps started training at Fort Des Moines in Iowa, in July 1942.

Conley arrived at Fort Des Moines in March 1943. As a Black woman and Native American, she faced racial discrimination, said Conley-Ware, who spoke with InsideNoVa about her mother’s experiences because Conley suffers from memory issues. Conley-Ware has a Ph.D in healthcare sciences and engineering. She is also her mother’s medical power of attorney.

The training center at Fort Des Moines taught all women, but after Officer Candidate School, Black officers and white officers were segregated by race, according to the U.S. Army. 

Conley-Ware said at the time, her mother thought the Army racially integrated WAAC, because she was placed with mostly white women, and was told the dorm also included Latin, Native Americans and Italian women, Conley-Ware said. 

Conley told her daughter she was repeatedly asked how well she knew her tribal language. Years later Conley learned about Native American Code Talkers. In WWI and WWII, hundreds of Native Americans joined the U.S. military and served as communications specialists who sent secret battle messages in their tribal language. 

Conley was injured in June 1943 when a piece of equipment fell onto her abdomen, Conley-Ware said.

She re-traced her mother’s steps through paperwork and noticed her mother’s race was changed in the hospital from dark — referring to Native Americans and Italians — to colored, she said. Other paperwork used a form of the n-word to refer to Conley, her daughter said.

“She thought she was making a difference and that’s when she faced discrimination, because she is African American,” Conley-Ware said.

After about a month of testing, Conley still had abdominal pain, but was told there was nothing to help her condition. 

“She was given an honorable discharge and transportation back to her home state of Virginia,” Conley-Ware said.

Still in pain, she was not given medication and was not allowed to return to her dorm after leaving the hospital, Conley-Ware said. 

“Her discharge papers stated rank unknown, position unknown and injury cause unknown,” Conely-Ware said. 

In 1948, Conley tried to join the U.S. Air Force, her daughter said. She was denied due to her medical records from the Army. 

Conley retired as a federal government worker in the 1980s. Since 2011, Conley-Ware has taken care of her mother, who has chronic abdominal pain and other medical issues, her daughter said. 

Conley-Ware said her mother was denied military disability when she applied in the early 1960s when Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps service members were allowed to apply. 

Since 2013, Conley-Ware has continued to request that the Department of Veterans Affairs pay her mother for military disability.

“No one has addressed the racial injustice my mother experienced in 1943,” she said. “This injustice for a woman who wanted to serve her country and has left her with an injury that she will carry to her grave.”

 

By Emily Sides

esides@insidenova.com

 

During World War II, Ruby Conley repaired machines and managed a team of women at a U.S. Army training center. She faced discrimination during her time in service and now, more than 50 decades later, her family is fighting for the military benefits she earned.

Growing up, Lakita Conley-Ware’s mother told her stories about her service during the war. 

Now 99, Conley served in the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps when she was 21 years old — the first to enlist in her family. 

Conley-Ware said her mother “wanted to serve her country, because she wanted to make a difference.” 

A Woodbridge resident, Conley’s paperwork did not list her rank, her daughter said. It wasn’t until 2013 that they received an apology and a certificate from the U.S. Army that acknowledged her mother was an officer. 

Conley received recognition for her service and was awarded three medals on Dec. 29, 2018, with the assistance of the Veterans of Foreign War Post 1503 in Dale City. 

Ruby Conley served from March 27, 1943, until she was honorably discharged July 29, 1943, due to an injury. According to her daughter, it’s an injury that she suffers from to this day, so the family is fighting for military benefits Conley hasn’t received for her service.

 

SERVING AT HOME

A bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts created the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps in May 1942 after the U.S. entered WWII following the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.  

The federal law, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, created a reserve force of women to support the Army. The ‘auxiliary’ was dropped from the name July 1, 1943, when the Women’s Army Corps was made an official part of the U.S. Army. 

“This gave women all of the rank, privileges and benefits of their male counterparts,” according to the U.S. Army.

The first women to serve in the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps started training at Fort Des Moines in Iowa, in July 1942.

Conley arrived at Fort Des Moines in March 1943. As a Black woman and Native American, she faced racial discrimination, said Conley-Ware, who spoke with InsideNoVa about her mother’s experiences because Conley suffers from memory issues. Conley-Ware has a Ph.D in healthcare sciences and engineering. She is also her mother’s medical power of attorney.

The training center at Fort Des Moines taught all women, but after Officer Candidate School, Black officers and white officers were segregated by race, according to the U.S. Army. 

Conley-Ware said at the time, her mother thought the Army racially integrated WAAC, because she was placed with mostly white women, and was told the dorm also included Latin, Native Americans and Italian women, Conley-Ware said. 

Conley told her daughter she was repeatedly asked how well she knew her tribal language. Years later Conley learned about Native American Code Talkers. In WWI and WWII, hundreds of Native Americans joined the U.S. military and served as communications specialists who sent secret battle messages in their tribal language. 

Conley was injured in June 1943 when a piece of equipment fell onto her abdomen, Conley-Ware said.

She re-traced her mother’s steps through paperwork and noticed her mother’s race was changed in the hospital from dark — referring to Native Americans and Italians — to colored, she said. Other paperwork used a form of the n-word to refer to Conley, her daughter said.

“She thought she was making a difference and that’s when she faced discrimination, because she is African American,” Conley-Ware said.

After about a month of testing, Conley still had abdominal pain, but was told there was nothing to help her condition. 

“She was given an honorable discharge and transportation back to her home state of Virginia,” Conley-Ware said.

Still in pain, she was not given medication and was not allowed to return to her dorm after leaving the hospital, Conley-Ware said. 

“Her discharge papers stated rank unknown, position unknown and injury cause unknown,” Conely-Ware said. 

In 1948, Conley tried to join the U.S. Air Force, her daughter said. She was denied due to her medical records from the Army. 

Conley retired as a federal government worker in the 1980s. Since 2011, Conley-Ware has taken care of her mother, who has chronic abdominal pain and other medical issues, her daughter said. 

Conley-Ware said her mother was denied military disability when she applied in the early 1960s when Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps service members were allowed to apply. 

Since 2013, Conley-Ware has continued to request that the Department of Veterans Affairs pay her mother for military disability.

“No one has addressed the racial injustice my mother experienced in 1943,” she said. “This injustice for a woman who wanted to serve her country and has left her with an injury that she will carry to her grave.”

Emily Sides covers Prince William County for InsideNoVa. Reach her at esides@insidenova.com.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.