First WAC: Love led her into a historic military career
By Kris Leonhardt
WISCONSIN RAPIDS — Sara Parsons’ long personal history is deeply rooted in the Wisconsin Rapids area. Her great-grandfather is credited with naming one of Wisconsin Rapids’ genesis communities – Centralia – after settling here following the gold rush.
Parsons had a difficult childhood, which included her parents’ divorce at a time when it was looked upon very different than it is today.
After the divorce, money was tight for Sara’s mother.
“I was in high school and my father wouldn’t give my mother any money, so we ran out of money and didn’t have any place to live or anything, so I quit school,” Sara said.
She went in to see her school principal and explained that she would have to leave. The principal allowed her to take her books home to study and return to take her test to graduate.
“We were in the middle of the depression, and I am wearing second-hand clothes,” Sara recalled. “I would think that quite a few students dropped out and got a job.”
Sara’s father was station manager for the railroad and found her a job.
When Sara’s mother remarried the head man at the paper mill, life began to look a little sunnier for the family.
“That took us from poverty to ‘pass the ice cream,’” Sara laughed.
The family moved into a house on Third Street. On Third Street, Sara’s sister Jane began dating a man named Jim.
“But, she didn’t care one way or the other,” Sara stated. “Our voices sounded the same on the phone, so I got this phone call, and he thought I was Jane. He wanted to know if I wanted to go to the movies.
“This tall, good-looking guy came and said, ‘Is Jane here?’ I said, ‘Oh, no, no. She is in Chicago visiting her grandparents. I am going to the movies with you.’ About six months later, we were married.”
Jim was a reserve officer, and when World War II broke out, he was called to duty. Not wanting to wait until he returned, the two went to Appleton to get married.
“He might get away,” laughed Sara.
The couple drove out to Maryland where Jim would be stationed. When Jim received his orders for Panama, Sara was left on the East Coast alone. With gas rationing, she had no way to return home.
Sara saw an ad in the newspaper that the women were starting an Army core.
“I am 21 years old and I am pretty dumb,” she laughed. “I thought well, I’ve just been married a couple of months, and I’ll just join the Army and we can be together; which was a brilliant thing to do. I didn’t see him for over three years.”
Sara sold their car and headed to New York City.
“There were not many women there, because who wants to be in the Army,” she said.
“There were about 10 of us women. We were all dressed up in hats, white gloves, and spike heels. We got off the train and there was kind of a messy, overweight Army man there with a truck with an open back, and he said, ‘All of the WACs (Womens Army Corps), climb up in the truck.’ Here we are with our fancy outfit on, spike heels, and we had to climb up in the truck.”
After training, Sara applied for officer candidate school and became an officer. She went to Daytona, where she became a company commander, ushering over 100 new recruits in each month. She was later stationed with an anti-aircraft battalion.
Now within six months of her 100th birthday, Sara has lived an active, driven life that extends far outside the reaches of the Army. A portion of her life has been chronicled in two books: “Here, There and Everywhere” and “A Year in a Small Turkish Village.” Her third book, “First WAC” chronicles her years in the service – a story local philanthropist Ben Holberg wants to make sure central Wisconsin gets to know.
“This is a story that needs to be read by as many people as we can get,” said Holberg. “It is a story that not a lot people know about.”
Holberg worked on fundraising, collecting enough for a first run of 150 copies.
“To start out, the book is going to be a self-sustaining, non-profit,” Holberg explained. “All of the money that comes in is going to go into buying more copies.”
Later, the proceeds will benefit Renewed Liberty, an organization that provides a free flag and house-mounted pole to any central Wisconsin military member.
To learn more about Renewed Liberty or to contact Ben, visit www.renewedliberty.org.
A book-signing and Q & A session with Sara will take place at the American Heroes’ Cafe inside the Crossview Church, 1000 E. Riverview Expy, No. 120, Wisconsin Rapids, on Nov. 14 at 8:30 a.m.