WAAC, WAC, WAVE or WIN

Lewistown women choose military service
By 
MIRIAM CAMPAN
Reporter
Friday, November 8, 2019
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Roberta Mae Deal (left) not only served in the WAACs, but was also a model for recruiting more women (not to mention selling Grapette soda pop).

Image courtesy of Miriam Deal Campan

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Army reservist Sandy Alexander, now Sandy Youngbauer, stands at a camp in Saudi Arabia during her deployment. During her time in Desert Storm, Youngbauer was instructed not to bring a good camera because the sand would destroy it. 

Photos by Miriam Campan

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Today Sandy Youngbauer continues to serve as an active American Legion member. 

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There is no place like home. Doney returns from Germany where she visited her son who carries on the military tradition.

 

Twenty-something Roberta Mae Deal had a choice to make. The time was the early 1940s and war was raging in the Pacific and in Europe. As a jazz musician, traveling gigs were slim for the Lewistown native. Her father, Dr. Arter Deal, was housebound with encephalitis, and she was engaged to two men pressing for a wedding date. Her choice was to join the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps and serve her country.

Deal joined the WAAC, established by then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt “for the purpose of making available to the national defense the knowledge, skills, and special training of women of the nation.”  After a short basic training in Des Moines, Iowa, Deal traded in her civilian attire and was provided everything from make-up to a luxurious maroon bathrobe that accompanied her government-issue uniform. As a new WAAC she was given a choice for her MOS (military occupational skill). She opted to work in the baking field over the other choices of clerks, typists, driving or medical. 

During her time in the WAACs, Deal travelled around the U.S. and petitioned to become an officer. Three times she stood in front of a board to approve her promotion to First Lieutenant. 

She met and married a handsome officer, then, after four years, left the service and made her home with her husband on the Eastern seaboard.

In 1943 the President signed legislation that changed the name from WAAC to the Women’s Army Corps, making women in this branch of the military WACs. 

Some 30 years later in 1975, a 21-year-old Sandy Alexander found herself wanting to serve as a WAC in the United States Army Reserves.

Alexander said, “My brother was influential in my joining the reserves. They were recruiting people from Lewistown to not lose the detachment because of declining numbers. So, I joined.” 

During Alexander’s time in the military she found success with a number of differing MOS’s. From baking bread and cinnamon rolls to a position as a wheeled vehicle mechanic, Alexander was also involved in petroleum distribution and water purification over her 20-year military career.

 “I was in Korea, Honduras, Germany, and Saudi Arabia (Desert Storm). In the U.S., I travelled to New Mexico, California, Colorado, South Carolina, Minnesota, Michigan and Washington state,” she said. 

“One memory that really sticks with me was when our unit landed in Great Falls and the reception at the airport coming back from Desert Storm. It was amazing. The one thought I had was the people returning from Vietnam should have this reception. Every unit that is deployed should have a welcome home where people realize what you’ve given up and what you’ve done to serve.”

In 1976, 19-year-old Gayle Carter found herself at a crossroads in her life when she became a WAVE/WIN and enlisted in the Navy. 

“I was shopping with my mother in Missoula and I saw the recruiter’s office on the street. The recruiter told me I didn’t have to cut my hair, so I signed up,” said Carter.

Carter also had a family influence that assisted with her decision to choose the military. 

“I needed direction. I had an uncle who served in Vietnam for two terms and I was very proud of him. My father was in the Navy, and my mother was in the Army Nurse Cadet Corp. Both of my parents served during WWII,” she said.

Carter found herself, with excellent typing skills, involved in cryptology as her MOS. 

“I was a cryptology technician. They [the Navy] wanted to know if I could copy Morse code, and type coding and decoding.”

Carter was finally stationed in the Aleutian Islands, where she met her husband and put her cryptology skills to good use. 

“It’s about in the middle of the [Aleutian Islands] chain. We were closer to Russia than to America,” Carter said. 

“It was interesting work. You could see the Russian jets checking our readiness. I was there when the Iran hostage crisis occurred. We worked 12 hours on and 12 hours off gathering information.”

Carter served from 1976 to 1980.

 

Lifelong impacts

Roberta Mae Deal married Raleigh Baker. She often reflected on her military travels throughout the U.S. and the friends she met. 

“I loved visiting different churches from different parts of the U.S. I remember sitting in a little white chapel down south when I heard, from the back of the church, a perfect baritone voice emanating from a tall, distinguished looking black man,” she said.

Alexander, (a.k.a. Fergus County Commissioner Sandy Youngbauer) recalled a situation from her Desert Storm experience.

 “We couldn’t go anywhere without our gasmasks. We were under attack. They [U.S. Army Reserve] sent 17 people from our unit to set up our compound. It just so happened I was one of the females and my brother was one of the males. Brother and sister in the field.”

Carter married Brad Doney and settled in Lewistown in 1980, and is now a Lewistown City Commissioner.

Doney thought back on her time in the military. 

“It was just a different world. I met people from the Southside of Chicago to girls from Southern homes in Virginia. For young women, serving in the military teaches you to stand up for yourself and to not be afraid to take a chance. You learn about yourself and other people. It really broadens your perspective.”

All three Lewistown women reflected on the challenges and the perks of serving in the military.

“It taught me I could do anything I set my mind to,” said Baker (Deal) while speaking with her family in the mid-1980s.

For Youngbauer (Alexander) her biggest takeaway was “not to take for granted the daily amenities like electricity or flushing toilets.”

Carter (Doney) enjoys visiting her children who now serve in the military. She just returned from visiting her son stationed in Germany.

Youngbauer expressed a universal goal for those serving in the military.  

“It doesn’t matter what your rank is, as long as everybody gets home,” she said.

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