Heroes From the Heart of Virginia: Ruth Wigington

Ruth Wigington

Reporter: David Tate

During World War II, as American men shipped off to war, American women stepped up to help keep the "homefront" going.

In that time, the military allowed women to sign up for active duty service in either the Navy or the Coast Guard for the first time. They were known as WAVES: Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service.

By December 8, 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, tens of thousands of American men began enlisting in the military to fight in the world's most devastating war in history. But for many women like Ruth Wigington who also wanted to serve, it would take nearly a year before she would legally get her chance. A chance she ended up taking in 1943.

"My reason for joining was because I was raised in a very patriotic family," said Wigington.

While the Army moved first by allowing women to serve alongside soldiers, it were women in the Navy WAVES who would be the first to actively serve in the US military.

"So we got on the troop train at night and they had berths for us and everything. So next morning we woke up... there were nothing but men on the train. So we said, 'Ok, that's alright,'" said Wigington.

While the women made history, Wigington says the men did treat them with respect. Many of the 27,000 WAVES that enlisted during the war would become the first female pilots in the US military.

Wigington herself was assigned as a legal aide, one of the many jobs women would fill to allow the men to fight overseas.

"If you can imagine the work that we would have that would entail taking care of a base, and they would do it," she said.

Nearly 300,000 women in all that volunteered for their country in its darkest hour, whether in the WAACS, the WAVES or the Red Cross.

"Pride. We were just so glad that we had enlisted and really been in there and helped. That was the main thing. Of course, we were all patriotic to do it. We loved our flag. We loved our country mainly," said Wigington.

At 90, Ms. Ruth, as she's called, continues to surround herself with military men. She is just one of four female veterans living at the Virginia Veterans Care Center in Salem.