By her own admission, Dorothy Tyler of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania has lived a very active life. At 90, she lives up to her words–and deeds–as a respected elder and vibrant leader of her family, community, and church.
During WW II, Mrs. Tyler served as another kind of leader, although she didn’t know it then. As the nation’s men were heading off to war in 1943, Mrs. Tyler was a pioneering enlistee in the nation’s newly formed and highly controversial Women’s Army Corps (WAC). Its official role was to relieve men from “desk jobs” and other non-combat duties at home and abroad. In fact, WAC soldiers were the first women other than nurses formally to serve with the Army.
Private Tyler’s role was to drive vehicles–all kinds and wherever needed–full of war supplies and personnel.
As an African American soldier, Mrs. Tyler experienced the kind of segregation, racial injustice, and professional humiliation widely practiced within the armed forces during WW II. However, Mrs. Tyler and other African Americans in uniform (such as the Tuskegee Airmen) not only demonstrated their patriotism and courage throughout the war effort, but they also dispelled all doubt that black men and women were as able and willing to perform their duties with as much competence and professionalism as any other American–a fact that undoubtedly influenced President Truman’s desegregation order of 1948.
Without knowing her personal story, the dispassionate facts of history might only indistinguishably count Mrs. Tyler as among the 6,500 other African American WAC soldiers who served during WW II. As a group, she and her fellow soldiers helped shape the future of the armed services for today’s minority men and women in uniform. But every soldier has her own story to tell, and our real understanding of history comes from hearing Mrs. Tyler’s deeply personal story–in her own words. Indeed, after our conversation with Mrs. Tyler on a snowy afternoon in December 2012, it is with warm appreciation and great respect that we thank her for her unique and honorable military service.
On a cold, December day in 2012, Ms. Dorothy Tyler promptly arrived on time for our interview session at the council chamber of West Mayfield Borough. At age 92, she was remarkably energetic. “I was in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps during WW II,” she informed me without prompting. “What else do you want to know?”
As we chatted during the video and audio set up, it became clear that Ms. Tyler’s story would be remarkable, not only in terms of her WAAC service, but more importantly as an African-American. The story of racial segregation during WW II is, often, a realistic reminder of our nation’s regrettable past. Ms. Tyler, who lived through such unfair treatment, could give us a first-hand account. We worried throughout the interview if a discussion of race during the war years would be, at this point in her life, uninteresting to Ms. Tyler. It wasn’t.