As the country first entered WWII, the United States Marine Corps remained a small fighting force in comparison to its Naval and Army counterparts. At the decisive Battle of Guadalcanal the Marines suffered an extremely high casualty rate. Knowing he faced future battles that would be at least as bloody as Guadalcanal, USMC Major General Thomas Holcomb reevaluated the role of women in the Marine Corps in hopes of freeing more men up for front line duty.
Public law 689, signed in July 1942 with the vocal support of first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, officially created the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. The Women’s Reserve officially began operations in April 1943, but many women signed up as soon as the law passed the previous year. Southern Californian-based CPN member Catherine Vieux (Clinton) was amongst these early enrollees, and became the first Native American to serve in the USMC Women’s Reserve.
Vieux was a graduate of the Haskell Institute of Lawrence, Kansas prior to her joining the Marines. Following her graduation, she worked for the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). During her employment with the BIA, Vieux served throughout her home state of Kan. in addition to posts New Mexico and North Dakota. She had been working as a typist for Calif.-based Douglas Aircraft when she volunteered for the Women’s Reserve.
Marine Commandant General Holcomb was asked by Life magazine about the nickname the Women’s Reserve would get, referencing the Navy’s WAVES.
Holcomb dismissed the notion, saying “They are Marines. They don’t have a nickname and they don’t need one. They get their basic training in a Marine atmosphere at a Marine post. They inherit the traditions of Marines. They are Marines.”
Vieux traveled across the country to New York City’s Hunter College for a four-week indoctrination course, where she was trained as a stenographer. Enlisting as a private, she told a Calif. newspaper prior to her enlistment that the Leathernecks reputation as fighters prompted her to choose the Marines over the Army and Navy. Her service lasted until September 15, 1945 when she, like many male and female service members were discharged following the war’s conclusion.
More than 800 Native American women served in the military during the war. Native Americans as a whole were the largest minority represented in the U.S. Armed Forces throughout the conflict.