The Top Secretary of the Army
Carolyn James, of Adrian, Georgia, wasn't the first woman to join the Women's Army Corps during World War II, nor was she the first Georgian out of the some 150,000 women who volunteered to help the war effort in uniform. But it was this patriotic granddaughter of the founder of Adrian, who made U.S. Military history twice in her 20-year career.
Carolyn Hauser James, a daughter of Thomas Jefferson James II and Inez E. Hauser, was born in Adrian, Georgia on January 21, 1910. Her grandfather, Thomas J. "Capt. T.J." James, founded the town of Adrian in the 1890s as a base for his railroad, the Wadley & Mt. Vernon, and his massive farming interests. Not long after her grandfather's death, the James family fell on hard times. During the years before the Great Depression, Miss James and her family moved to the Miami-Dade County area, where Carolyn took a job as a stenographer in a law office and later in a hotel.
As a divorced mother of a son James Richard Owen, 14, Carolyn decided it was time for her to join the war effort officially. So at the age of 35, Carolyn enlisted in the Women's Army Corps on March 23, 1945 in Miami. In the late 1940s, Carolyn worked at Oliver General Hospital in Augusta, Georgia.
The Women's Army Corps provided valuable service to the Army in times of war and peace. General Douglas MacArthur proclaimed that the WACs "are my best soldiers." The general added, "They work harder, complain less, and were better disciplined than men." Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower said, "their contributions in efficiency, skill, spirit, and determination are immeasurable."
As the country returned to war in 1950 in Korea, Carolyn and other stenographers saw an increased work load. Carolyn was assigned to Tokyo, where she was given the task of devising a system to organize and file correspondence related to the truce meetings which were held in hopes of ending the war quickly.
In her position as administrative assistant to the G-1, Carolyn received the Brown Star Medal for meritorious service to the Far East Command headquarters. The citation for the medal read in part," for devising an ingenious system of processing and filing high priority correspondence and expedient cross-indexing providing a chronological history relevant to the cease-fire armistice negotiations in Korea."
In the week before Christmas, 1952, James' meritorious achievements led her assignment by General James A. Van Fleet to his 8th Army headquarters in Korea. Master Sergeant James, the first ever master sergeant in the United States Women's Army Corps, was joined by Corporal Louise M. Farrell, of Billings, Montana as the first two members of the WACs to be permanently assigned to duty in Korea.
Carolyn James once told her family friends that while in Korea, she was scheduled to receive the Bronze Star from General of the Army Douglas MacArthur. She related that she wore her best uniform to headquarters. Just as she was to enter the building, however, a bird left its droppings all over her uniform, leaving her with a dilemma - see the General in that state, or go back and change and risk being late. She chose the former, which is perhaps why I never saw a photo of the ceremony, although her uniform blouse shows she wore the medal.
Carolyn, in a January 1953 letter to her cousins, Anne Laura Hauser and Melville Schmidt , wrote, "I was transferred to Korea on 18 December, after the Far East Command had made a thorough search for a WAC to fill the position of personal secretary to General Van Fleet, and finally decided I had the desired qualifications - although my tour was about up. However, when they approached me, I volunteered to extend for six months. Since there are no other WACs in Korea, Eighth Army recommended that I bring another for company, so I chose a girl who had court reporting experience. We had the honor of being the first two WACs to ever be permanently assigned to Korea's combat area."
"Of course, everything considered, Public Information Office and the other publicity media decided it was good material for WAC recruiting purposes, so for one week prior to our departure, we were constantly being photographed - motion and still; televised, and radio interviewed Then we were flown over in a special mission B-17, " James continued.
"We were cordially received by all in headquarters here. They have really done everything to make us comfortable and happy. We're billeted in a senior officers' billets , which had a portion of the second floor allotted to female personnel - Red Cross workers, the Chief Nurse of the Eighth Army, and us. We eat our meals here in headquarters in a little spot right outside the kitchen of the Army Commander's mess," the revered sergeant said.
Sergeant James stated, "My duty hours are quite long -- from 0800 to 2100 and sometimes 2200 (9:00 and 10:00) at night. However, movements are so restricted and the working conditions are so pleasant, it isn't too bad. We have a little Korean house girl who takes care of our clothes, which gives us added freedom from outside chores."
With fond remembrances, the Adrian native recorded, "I have certainly enjoyed my short tenure as General Van Fleet's secretary, for he is without doubt one of the finest men I have ever had the privilege of knowing. He is a superior field commander, American and humanitarian, and is respected and admired by everyone - Koreans included."
In summarizing her war experience, Sergeant James stated, "The devastation and misery in this country as the result of this war is indeed heart-rending, but there is much evidence that our government and its people are doing everything possible to alleviate much of the suffering. Aside from the many government-sponsored welfare organizations, every military unit (including the front-line units) has its own welfare program in the form of aid to orphanages, hospitals, etc. It certainly increases one's pride in his country and its people to see such a genuine display of generosity toward those less fortunate."
Carolyn's time in Korea was short as an armistice was signed on July 27, 1953, although a 1963 Colorado Springs Gazette article stated that M. Sgt. James has gone to Korea six months before hostilities began in 1950.
James was assigned as Chief Clerk of the General Staff office at ARADCOM Headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado in the summer of 1956. In her seventh and last year at ARADCOM, James served as Administrative Officer of the Training Branch, G-3.
With the passage of The Military Pay Bill of 1958, Congress added pay grades of E-8 and E-9. With the new law in effect. Carolyn H. James became the first in the Women's Army Corps (WAC) promoted to grade E-8, making her the first WAC promoted to master sergeant (or first sergeant). It was during her tenure in Colorado Springs when Master Sgt. James was promoted to Sergeant Major (E-9) making her the first woman in the history of the United States Army to hold that esteemed enlisted man's rank.
In 1963, Sergeant Major James was awarded an Oak Leaf Cluster in lieu of a second Army Commendation Medal. She was assigned to the Women's Army Corps School at Fort McClellan, Alabama. A second Oak Leaf Cluster was awarded to before her April 1965 retirement ceremony.
Carolyn James lived for nearly two and one half decades in Colorado Springs following her retiriement after twenty years of service to the Army. Sergeant Major James died on May 8, 1991 in local hospice.
And thus the story of the determined and patriotic lady from Adrian, Georgia, who grew up to serve the country as the top secretary in the Army.