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5ae2863f87cf8.imageWomen of the U.S. Signal Corps who served overseas as telephone operators during World War I. (U.S. Army)

These women were denied veteran status for decades. Congress can’t overlook them again.

By Elizabeth Cobbs
via the Washington Post newspaper web site

Elizabeth Cobbs, a history professor at Texas A&M and a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, is the author of “The Hello Girls.”

Women were among the last U.S. soldiers to return home from World War I. They will also be among the last honored if an overdue but welcome bipartisan bill pending in the Senate passes.

Three years into World War I, the United States rushed to make up for its tardiness in joining the Allied effort by recruiting, equipping, training, shipping and deploying 2 million Doughboys to France. America’s contribution to the Allied victory was inestimably aided by the more than 200 women of the U.S. Signal Corps who operated telephone lifelines that connected combat soldiers with their commanders.

Radios did not yet carry voices, only Morse code, and their wireless signals were notoriously vulnerable to enemy interception. It took three mules to haul a heavy radio field station to the front. By contrast, officers could deliver orders over telephones simply by talking, and the lines were difficult to tap without detection. A single soldier carrying a lightweight spindle could run communication lines into trenches, across battlefields and to captured enemy positions.

The telephone lines transmitted commands to begin bombardments, to launch attacks and to retreat. Infantry officers used telephones to request artillery backup as troops advanced — and sometimes to call off friendly fire when it arrived. Telephones also facilitated military logistics, maintaining supply lines by which wars can be won or lost.

In the second decade of the 20th century, though, the telephone was a relatively rudimentary technology: Telephones didn’t have dials, and human operators were required to connect calls. Parties spoke with an operator who connected them. On the battlefield, when French-speaking and English-speaking commanders wanted to communicate, Signal Corps operators that Stars and Stripes called “bilingual wire experts” acted as interpreters.

Read the entire article on the Washington Post web site.

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