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Captain Joan Joosten, WAC at War

Captain Joosten is on the left, wearing her overseas cap. Photo courtesy of the Army Women’s Museum, Fort Lee, VA.

Among the thousands of veterans buried at the Houston National Cemetery, is the gravesite of an unsung heroine of World War II. Houston’s own, Captain Joan Joosten, worked as a bookkeeper for the University of St. Thomas for many years, but in the fall of 1942 war raged in her hometown of Amsterdam. She and her husband emigrated to the United States in 1929 and became citizens in 1937. When her husband was drafted, rather than sit home and wait, she jumped into the fray. She was one of the first women to join the newly formed Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in 1942, an all-volunteer force of American women soldiers. Joan signed up July 11, 1942, just two months after the WAAC was created by Congress and signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. “I wanted to get in, too,” said Mrs. Joosten. “All of my people are in Holland. I know what war is like over there, and I don’t want it to happen here.” (“Texas Mothers Join up, Do Their Bit for WAAC.” Austin American Statesman, 11 July 1942)

On August 29, 1942, Joan was one of 436 women to be commissioned as Third Officers, the equivalent to the regular army rank of second lieutenant. It didn’t take long for Officer Joosten to prove herself and by the end of the year, she was one of five officers assigned to the 149th Post Headquarters Company. Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby had orders from General Eisenhower to send over a company of WAACs to Algiers, to take over noncombatant jobs and release men that were desperately needed on the Tunisian battlefield. 

The first women asked to serve in a combat theater were all volunteers. Col. Hobby refused to send any woman who did not understand the risks. These women were sent overseas with no extra pay, no government life insurance, no veterans medical coverage, and no death benefits. If WAACs were captured, they had no protection under existing international agreements covering prisoners of war. And still, Officer Joan Joosten, four other officers and approximately 150 enlisted women volunteered for duty. 

There is much more to Joan’s story and the story of the 149th Post Hq Co. Today I’m just marveling at the many untold stories of our women in the armed forces. All those stories started with the Women’s Army Corps and those first pioneering women who joined the army and became soldiers. 

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