Denise Carson dreamed of joining the U.S. Army when she was a little girl, and for a woman in the early 1970s that meant joining the Women’s Army Corps.
The WAC, first created as the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps at the start of World War II, provided Carson an opportunity to serve her country, something she cherishes today.
Carson, a Crest Hill resident, is an ambassador with the Illinois chapter of Honor and Remember, a national organization devoted to keeping alive the memory of those who died in service to their country.
“I was proud to wear the uniform,” Carson said of her own time in the WAC and Army from 1974 to 1986.
She believes it’s important to honor others who wore the uniform, especially those who have passed away.
Honor and Remember pays tribute to those who died in military service and those whose deaths are a result of their service. A ceremony is held in honor of the veteran, during which an Honor and Remember flag embroidered with the veteran’s name is presented.
“It’s important not to forget,” Carson said, noting the impact the ceremony and flag has on families of the veteran. “The best thing for me is I get to see their families. This ceremony is about how [the veterans] lived.”
Carson said she considers herself fortunate to have served in the Army even though the barrier for women was high when she joined.
She was among the last women to be trained as a WAC. The all-female Army corps was disbanded in 1978 when its units were integrated with male units.
A certain bond exists among those women who served in the WAC, Carson said.
That bond was felt in a chance meeting early in her military career, when she was in uniform at an airport and was spotted by a World War II WAC veteran.
“She said, ‘I’m so glad to see a woman in uniform,’ ” Carson recalled. “She gave me her Women’s Army Corps medal that they gave to you in World War II. I still have it today.”
It was the 1970s, and there were not many women in the military.
“She said, ’Just remember those who came before you and educate those who come after,’ ” Carson said. “That’s what I believe.”
Carson said she and other women faced discrimination in the military, but it was a unique opportunity, too.
She was a weapons specialist. At times, she would have to tell men who were superior officers that their guns weren’t cleaned properly, which did not always go over well. But Carson said she stood her ground.
“I was blessed,” Carson said of her time in the Army. “I was able to drive 5-ton Army trucks. I was able to fire every weapon in my arms room, from the pistols to the machine guns. It was so cool when I fired my first grenade launcher.”
She said those who want to learn more about Honor and Remember can visit the website at honorandremember.org. Carson can be reached at email@example.com.