Bellingham woman in WAC band horrified by discrimination against black colleague

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDNovember 11, 2011 

Veterans Day - Myers

Joan Myers of Bellingham, back row, third from right, played trombone in the Women's Army Corp band during the early 1950s. Her unit, Company B, was the first integrated WAC company.

JOAN MYERS — COURTESY TO THE HERALD

Joan "Jo" Myers underwent basic training in 1950 at Fort Lee, Va., with Company B, the first integrated company in the Women's Army Corp.

After basic training, I auditioned and was assigned to the 14th Army WAC Band, the only all-woman military band at that time. I played trombone and was also the supply clerk for the band.

I was with friends and a drinking buddy with a black girl in the company (next to me in the photograph, taken during basic training). I cannot remember her name now, but one incident that is etched in my mind is when it was the time that we had our first pass to leave the base and go into town.

We were called aside and told that we could not go into town together. I could not understand why, but found out that day that she had to sit in the back of the bus. When we arrived at the terminal, I was horrified to see the dirty water fountain and restrooms were marked "For Blacks Only."

I was ashamed to look at her, couldn't believe anyone could be treated that badly. My first experience with segregation. I didn't like it!

The band was not allowed to have black members, although several auditioned during those years. We protested because there were some fine musicians auditioning, but our protests were to no avail. The reason was that we stayed in local hotels during the many tours and, of course, blacks weren't allowed there either.

When the Korean War started, the band was ordered to travel the states playing concerts at veterans' hospitals, schools and special events, and marching in many parades. We appeared on TV and in a movie, met with many famous people, and saw a great deal of almost every state, except Alaska and Hawaii.

The purpose of these assignments was to recruit women into the service to fill the positions of the men who were sent to battle. I re-enlisted for another three years in 1953, as the trips were still being scheduled.

Joan Myers libves in Bellingham.

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